Biometrics 101: A Primer for Physical Access Control

Biometrics 101: A Primer for Physical Access Control By Debra Spitler The world of physical access control was altered by the events of September 11, 2001, as veterans of this industry will attest. Prior to that time, physical access...


However, Webb says these concerns may be unfounded, because DNA systems are not commercially available, and commercial fingerprint biometric systems do not record fingerprints like the government systems. Instead, they analyze fingerprints and extract pertinent information, which is stored as a mathematical model of the fingerprint-a template. It is not the fingerprint itself. The template is later used to compare against data extracted from a live scan of a fingerprint for purposes of identity verification.

Can a biometric template be used to recreate the image it represents? "The answer lies in the fact that biometric templates are mathematical representations of a physical or behavioral trait," said Zelazny. "As such, they cannot be reverse engineered. Tampering and altering possibilities are mostly an issue of data protection."

Schaub, whose company stores encrypted templates on a token, agrees. "It would take a lot of money, time, and tremendous determination to duplicate a fingerprint; even if successful, there are additional ways of preventing that card from ever being compromised to gain access or entry."

The Future of the Biometric Market
Fingerprint biometrics are by far the most widely used biometric today, particularly in the law enforcement arena, and will continue to be so for the physical access control market in the foreseeable future, according to industry experts. However, these same experts disagree about which other biometric technologies will become widely used over the next five years.

The three biggest markets for biometrics are physical access control, time and attendance tracking, and logical access. Physical access control is more amenable to various forms of biometrics. Although biometric systems are still more expensive than traditional card systems, the end user now has more options that can be implemented into the security plan.

Time-and-attendance systems are adopting biometrics at least as fast as physical access control. Fingerprint biometrics and hand geometry readers tend to be most suited for these applications due to the lower cost and small form factor. By reducing "buddy punching", the use of biometrics for time and attendance can provide a strong return on investment.

Although the market is being introduced to biometric readers used for PC secure log-on, logical access will probably be the last to fully adopt biometrics. Users in this market tend to be pragmatic and want to see an industry leader before they purchase.

Law enforcement and government are the main adopters of biometrics today. Identix's Zelazny believes the next wave of market adoption will come from the "regulated industries"-transportation and aviation, finance and healthcare-where there is a mission, a mandate, and funding. Hunepohl says the government will use biometrics for personal identification and fraud prevention, while the financial market will focus on personal identification and deterring identity theft.

Acceptance by End Users
Transaction-based (mass-consumer) use of biometrics will follow the regulated industries. However, Webb points out that transaction processing and point-of-sale will be slower to adopt biometrics due to the immense efforts required to develop the infrastructure to support biometric verification.

For biometrics to become widely used, acceptance of the technology must increase, driven by increased performance, ease of use, and assurance that the biometric will be used properly. Other factors such as system integration and system cost will be initial deployment factors, but may not be enough to win end users over.

Schaub indicates that there are two significant drivers to end users' acceptance of biometrics. First are the recent U.S. government mandates and funding for biometric security as part of its transportation and border security initiatives. Second is using biometric identification as an access or entry option on commercial products, such as laptops, cell phones, automobiles and doors.

The bottom line to end user acceptance, says Hunepohl, is that there must be some clear benefit to end users. For example, he cites the ability to be excluded from delays. "If I can go to the airport 30 minutes before my flight, and submit my biometric proof to speed me through the process-I, along with a few million other travelers, am willing to submit to the background check and submit biometric proof of identification."