Kelley Prickett

17 Dec 2002

Help Desk Final

Question 6: Explain what Biometrics is and how it is used for security, and the future growth of this technology. 

Biometrics involves the use of a particular physical attribute or characteristic, or the use of several attributes and/or characteristics in combination, in the identification of an individual. Common biometrics used for identification include fingerprints, hand geometry, retina, iris, face, signature, or voice. Behavioral characteristics can also include a person’s gait or keystroke pattern.

Biometrics became a truly hot topic after the events of September 11th in the U.S., although the technologies have been available for some time, and the Biometric Consortium was formed in December 1995 to guide and support the growth of biometrics. Security became a more intense national and international concern, and as the media provided stories of the use of biometrics in the face recognition of terrorists, people became aware that what they had seen in movies such as “True Lies,” and the “007” series, was in fact, a reality.

The security factor of using biometrics in authentication and identification is that a biometric is difficult falsify. Some of the technologies, however, provide greater ease of use and are more cost effective than others. Keeping in mind that the technologies are continuing to emerge, one must examine a great deal of complex information offered by a number of vendors in order to determine the best match for his or her company. For instance, retinal scanning can be quite accurate, but it can be inconvenient to use if a person wears glasses or has concern about the close contact required when using the scanning device. An iris-based biometric requires no close contact between the scanner and the individual, and can be used with a person’s glasses in place, but the technology is not yet fully developed, so system integration is still not a strong selling point for this particular option.

The primary use of biometrics today involves controlling access to secure locations such as, office buildings, hospitals, casinos, and health clubs without requiring the manpower of a security guard to physically check identification. Biometrics was used during the 1996 Olympic Games, and is a staple at Disneyworld for checking season-ticket holders wishing to enter the gates.

With the new focus on biometrics, many new prototypes are being developed. One example involves the use of biometrics in international air travel, through the use of an application called, “EyeTicket.” This technology links a passenger’s frequent flyer number to an iris scan so that once enrolled, the passenger may use an unmanned kiosk for ticketing and check-in (but minus any checked luggage). EyeTicket is currently being evaluated by international airports in North Carolina and Germany.

Future research will produce new uses, and among them will surely be applications in the area of covert surveillance, and in e-commerce applications. It is already being used in point-of sale fraud prevention through finger scanning and signature verification, and at least one major hospital chain is using biometrics to secure their workstations. Biometric technologies can be layered to increase security levels. A password can provide minimal levels of access, but by adding biometrics, security can be taken to another level.

Biometric technology is no longer a movie-maker’s special effect. It is a reality that must not be ignored by the IT industry.

Sources: - Liu & Silverman