At ISC West 2011, biometric vendors tout reliability

For years, the biometrics players in the security industry have dealt with a major problem – reliability. From the first fingerprint and hand readers to the most sophisticated facial or iris recognition systems, vendors and end-users have learned, the hard way, that a 5-10 percent rate of failure is unacceptable.

"(Vendors) have been trying to bring the cost down, but they were not enhancing the quality and reliability of the technology," said Bill Spence, vice president of transaction systems for biometric provider Lumidigm.

Two major biometrics companies put on display their innovative steps to enhance the reliability of biometric fingerprint technology at the ISC West show in Las Vegas. MorphoTrak and Lumidigm are two companies that have found that adding a second layer of biometric authentication may be the key to enhancing the technology’s reliability. "This industry has been plagued by disappointment," said Gary Jones, MorphoTrak’s senior manager of biometric commercial distribution. "We need more credible and reliable technologies."

For MorphoTrak, that reliability takes the form of a new biometric fingerprint reader that not only reads the fingerprint of a subject, but also scans the veins within the same finger to ensure authentication. "Now we have double security (authentication) that is independent and unrelated," Jones said. "With this product, things like false rejects are reduced by a factor of 10."

Jones added that such technologies enable security to stay one step ahead, and it is much harder to fool such a system. The product is currently in the final stages of its development.

The Lumidigm reader also uses a second factor for biometric authentication, but instead of keying on the vein pattern in the user’s finger, it keys on the unique structure of the capillaries within the fingertip. As Spence described on the show floor, the core problem is that conventional biometric technologies rely on unobstructed and complete contact between the fingerprint and the sensor, a condition that is elusive in the real world, a world that is wet, dry, or dirty and users are not all young office workers with great skin who are experienced at using biometrics.

The fingerprint ridges that we see on the surface of the finger have their foundation beneath the surface of the skin, in the capillary beds and other sub-dermal structures. The fingerprint ridges we see on our fingertips are merely an echo of the foundational "inner fingerprint". Unlike the surface fingerprint characteristics that can be obscured by moisture, dirt or wear, the "inner fingerprint" lies undisturbed and unaltered beneath the surface. When surface fingerprint information is combined with subsurface fingerprint information and reassembled in an intelligent and integrated manner, the results are more consistent, more inclusive and more tamper resistant.

Spence went on to show a biometric fingerprint reader from partner company Innometriks that literally worked under a waterfall. Since water or dust does not obscure the fingerprint image the system had no problem reading the wet finger.

"Biometrics will never be completely 'perfect,'" Spence said, "but we have to accept that it’s on us to bring those error rates down. We as vendors cannot continue to look only at price when it comes to these technologies."

And increased reliability obviously brings increased opportunities in multiple markets. "We are seeing a change in mindset," Jones said. "There are just so many applications that can benefit from this technology."