Unlocking security with biometrics

By | December 6, 2005

Ask most people about biometric technology and they will immediately think about either its futuristic use in James Bond-style movies, or the more recent news stories of ID cards and biometric passports. Using biometrics to control access to their corporate IT network is unlikely to be forefront in their mind.

But perhaps it should be.

The benefits of biometrics in the business environment are often overlooked. But, in fact, when it comes to using fingerprints, iris scanning or similar technology to protect your company’s data and IT systems, there are a number of areas where the investment proves its worth.

Of course, there are the clear enhancements to security. Biometrics supply a third level of user authentication – ‘who you are´ in addition to ‘what you know’ and ‘what you have’. But there are other, less obvious bonuses from using biometrics: for example, they can provide accountability and support a strengthened audit system. Employees accessing confidential documents or files cannot deny their actions, and biometrics can be used to provide strong evidence in case of any disputes – vital in today’s regulatory environment.

Another benefit is the level of convenience for the user that simple ‘command and response´ systems such as passwords, PINs and tokens just don´t provide. There are no tokens to lose or passwords to forget, and, with the right design, access is almost instantaneous. Not only does this make logging on to the network easier for the user, but it can save the IT department money by taking up less time on password resets and user training.

Fingerprint or iris today, Sir?

There are numerous different biometric technologies available including fingerprints, iris patterns and face, voice and handwriting recognition, each with its own strengths and opportunities for business. For example, voice recognition technology can be used on IT help desks, or other internal call centres. An automatic system checks your voice pattern against a previously enrolled sample before handing you over to the operator. In a closed corporate environment where everyone can easily be enrolled, this technology has great potential.

However, of the ten or so types of biometrics, fingerprints are by far the most widely used. Other methods are becoming more popular, but all together they still account for far fewer biometric applications than fingerprint systems, and fingerprint sensors are now found in computer mice, keyboards, laptops and PDAs. A range of new ThinkPad notebooks from IBM have inbuilt fingerprint readers, as do the high end business notebook ranges from Samsung. Microsoft has also recently launched both a keyboard and mouse with fingerprint scanners. The iPaq 545x / 555x goes one step further, incorporating the option of fingerprint recognition or biometric signatures, and Fujitsu-Siemens has developed a biometric mouse which records images of the veins in a user´s hand.

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