Biometrics Technology Touches the Future

As I write this month’s column, ASIS has just issued a press release stating that their exhibit space for the 2007 ASIS show in Las Vegas was sold out and a record 910 companies exhibited at the September event. This is obviously good news for our industry, reflecting its continued growth. One of the areas in which I anticipate we’ll see an increase in product exhibits is biometric access control.

Biometric solutions are appealing on many levels and can be used for a variety of applications, including time and attendance reporting, building/door access control, signature verification and several other uses, depending on the technology employed. Increasingly, biometric solutions are being networked and integrated with access cards and/or smart cards to provide dual authentication and ultimately, a higher level of security.

Basically, a biometric access control system consists of a reader or scanning device, software that converts the gathered information into digital form and a database that stores the information for retrieval and comparison. The verification procedure requires the user to enter a PIN code into a keypad, swipe a magnetic stripe/bar code card or touch a biometric reader with a proximity card. The reader then pulls up a template of the individual’s biometric data, taken at the time of enrollment. Depending on the type of biometric device, the user then provides the biometric input (i.e. fingerprint, iris, etc.) and if the input matches the pulled-up template, the user is verified.

Several biometric technologies are already commercially available and field-proven and bear looking into when designing a state of the art security system. Some of the well-known forms of biometrics include fingerprint, iris, hand geometry and facial recognition.


Fingerprint matching technology is one of the most developed of all biometric technologies and has been used extensively in and by law enforcement for many years because of its ease of use, non-intrusiveness and reliability. A typical system uses a fingerprint scanner (optical, silicon or ultrasound) to digitally map the series of ridges and furrows on the surface of the finger. The minutiae points, which are the local ridge characteristics that occur at either a ridge split or a ridge ending, are unique in every individual and these points provide the basis for the biometric verification method.

Fingerprint matching can be used for verification applications when an individual, using a PIN code or prox card, claims to be a certain person and the system verifies the claim by matching the fingerprint to the stored template. This is known as a one-to-one search. Fingerprint matching can also be used for identification applications without the use of a PIN code or proximity card and this is known as a one-to-many search. Usually, a minimum of 12 minutiae points are legally required for positive identification in a criminal case but the biometric fingerprint reader can record more than 40 of these points.

In addition to access control applications, fingerprint technology is also a very strong desktop solution for network authentication as well as for applications within the health care industry and other privacy-sensitive industries, where it can help to improve the ability to access, track, manage and share data resources while guaranteeing the confidentiality and integrity of the transactions. Other applications include transportation (i.e. harbors, airports, etc.), gaming and financial institutions.

Iris Recognition

Iris recognition is widely recognized as one of the most accurate of all biometric technologies, with a reported misidentification rate of only one per 1.2 million. Its combined attributes of mathematical certainty, speed and non-invasive operation clearly make it the technology of choice for high profile applications such as immigration control, correctional facilities, airport access control, child identification programs and automated banking.

Using a specialized video camera to capture a detailed close-up of the iris and accompanying biometric software, a template or “map” of each person’s iris pattern is made for storage in the system. To verify identity later, an individual simply looks into a specialized iris camera, and the system compares the patterns in the individual’s iris against the templates stored in the system. If there’s a match, the identity is verified.

Iris recognition systems can be used as stand-alone solutions or in combination with access control systems requiring a pause and declare process (i.e. enter PIN code, etc.).

Hand Geometry

The primary advantage of hand geometry technology compared to other biometric access control solutions is its capability to be deployed in harsher environments including construction sites or entrance gates to high security facilities such as nuclear sites. Most systems can withstand temperatures ranging from 0° C to 45° C, and soiled or rough hands do not affect the image reading. Another advantage is its non-threatening approach to enrollment and verification. The hand geometry scanner takes measurements of the length, width, thickness and surface area of the hand and fingers and then records a three-dimensional shape to a template.

When an individual uses the scanner, it compares the shape of the user’s hand to the recorded template and if the template and the hand match, the scanner produces an output to unlock a door, transmit data to a computer or simply verify identification.

Hand geometry is facing stiff competition from other biometric technologies because of the physical size of the hand scanner but it is still used extensively in time and attendance applications because its performance remains unaffected by soiled or dirty hands and because of its proven cost savings by reducing time fraud and buddy punching activities.

Facial Recognition

While the technology for facial recognition shows promise, it is not yet considered fully mature or perfected. However, as we move to “smart” environments on our city streets (i.e. traffic cameras) and in public buildings or educational facilities, facial recognition will play a more prominent role in safety and security. In fact, the infrastructure for its implementation in the form of video surveillance systems is already highly developed and widespread. In addition, every government agency and many private companies keep photo ID records.

New developments in facial recognition technology are advancing the systems from conventional two-dimensional images to 3-D technology as well as incorporating other improvements such as the ability to rotate the image, enhance the lighting or perform tracking functions. Of all the biometric technologies, facial recognition appears to have the most appeal and widespread application possibilities because it is unobtrusive and discreet and does not require active participation by the user.

There are several other biometric technologies either in development or on the market which are worth mentioning, including speaker/voice biometrics, dynamic signature verification, keystroke dynamics, vascular pattern recognition and DNA biometrics to name but a few. All of these modalities share the commonality of using a measurable biological or behavioral characteristic for automated recognition and one is only measurably better than another based on the application and implementation or the maturity of the technology.

Whatever the biometric though, it is an exciting new growth area for our industry and I for one am looking forward to its progress.

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