A Fresh Look At Biometrics

Oct. 27, 2008
Some Promising (and Surprising) Developments in the Biometrics Market
Earlier this summer, Security Dealer and SecurityInfoWatch.com sent out a joint survey regarding electronic access control. Of the respondents who said they install electronic access control systems, 65% said they have “installed, serviced or employed biometric technology” within the past year. This number actually got different reactions among the people interviewed for this article; some thought the number was probably too high, some thought it might be high but hoped it was accurate, and others thought it was probably just right. Regardless, biometric technology is gaining market share as indicated by a recent Frost & Sullivan study which found biometrics to be the fastest growing segment of the North American electronic access control market.

While fingerprint readers are still the dominant form of biometrics, many other types are being developed and deployed. One type that you don't hear talked about much is voice biometrics, but that could be changing. In fact, just last month Brazilian and American anti-drug agents used a voice recognition system to identify (and subsequently arrest) the alleged leader of Colombia 's biggest drug cartel (he had drastically altered his face using plastic surgery).

And biometrics aren't just cool; they could make good business sense. “Biometrics has great growth potential for dealers and integrators,” says Jon Mooney, general manager, recognition systems, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies. “Those not promoting biometrics are costing themselves business and not providing the solutions that their customers need.”

Biometrics Today

So how are biometrics most commonly being deployed today?

“For access control, the focus is on the deployment of devices that provide the ability to capture, enroll and use biometric data—usually fingerprints or photos of faces—to prevent access to facilities or to data, or to improve the convenience of using a device or system (i.e. in systems that are designed to replace passwords with fingerprints),” explains Bill Bartlett, product manager, NEC. “Most commonly, the devices are door locks, laptop computers, cell phones (in Asia mostly) or access control panels.  The deployments in the U.S. are either experimental (pilots for banks, schools, etc.) or on a one-device-at-a-time consumer sales.  There is also some good activity with point-of-sale deployments for logging checkers to registers or to improve the convenience of sale transactions.  The bulk of biometric deployments that are not for law enforcement agencies are still to be found outside the U.S. , primarily in Asia and Europe .”

Matthew Bogart, vice president of marketing, Bioscrypt, explains, “Heavily regulated industries, such as healthcare and financial services as well as those that need to protect vulnerable infrastructure like ports and airfields, are among those who see the benefit of strong authentication for both physical and logical access.”

The Future

“Biometrics will take the place of keys, access cards, preference settings and safety devices in the future,” says Rich Slevin, CEO, ODI Security, LLC.

Slevind adds, “Many of these products are on the drawing board today. As an example, a fingerprint cabinet lock can be used for storing medical supplies. The lock retains a memory of who accessed the cabinet and when. This reduces theft. Another example is a fingerprint trigger lock. Most gun accidents happen in the home.  A fingerprint lock on a gun ensures only the owner has access, not the kids and the kids cannot find the key since there is no key. Many other applications are possible from thermostats in the house to preferences in the car, like seat controls and radio stations.” He continues, “One of our most recent design wins is on VoIP phones. These are phones that are connected to the Internet for communications but have the benefit of using our fingerprint module to allow any user anywhere is the world to swipe their finger, and that phone downloads their access codes and phone book in a matter of milliseconds making that phone their phone.  The potential applications for biometrics are endless.”

Ziv Barzilay, founder and CTO, CellMax Systems, sees voice biometrics as an emerging technology in the future, and he is involved with the International Standards Organization (ISO) in crafting standards for the technology.

“Voice biometrics works and works well,” says Barzilay. “New voice solutions are performing far beyond current market offerings. They can adapt to voiceprint changes—it will identify you, even with a stuffy nose—and we've even overcome cellular phone distortion.”

Furthermore, Barzilay contends, “Voice is the best option for cost-saving because it's the one technology that can be applied remotely and—aside from a microphone—doesn't need any special hardware.”

Barzilay also notes new federal laws passed in the past few years that aim to protect individuals from identity theft in the financial and health care fields. “All these laws require higher levels of identification that must answer the question: ‘Is this person who he/she claims to be?' using three factors: 1. Something the person knows. 2. Something the person has and 3. Something the person is. Voice is the only biometric that answers all three—literally!”

While fingerprint, hand geometry, iris recognition, and facial recognition remain the dominant forms of biometrics, the future is wide open. Biometrics have improved over the past few years and demand has increased. If you've had a bad experience with installing biometrics in the past, then it might finally be time to take another look.