Pinpointing Prospects in Biometrics

Installing security contractors need a thorough understanding of secure identification and personal verification technologies in order to sell end users on biometrics applications.


Vein recognition – Like a person’s hand geometry or fingerprint, the layouts of our veins are unique. To use a vein recognition system (for more, see sidebar on the last page), the user simply places the finger, wrist, palm or the back of the hand on or near the scanner. A camera takes a digital picture using near-infrared light. The hemoglobin in one’s blood absorbs the light, so veins appear black in the picture. As with all the other one-to-one biometric types, the software creates a reference template based on the shape and location of the vein structure. Small-scale access control for equipment such as lockers can easily embed finger vein scanners.

Eye — The scanner stores traits of a person’s iris into a template. Proponents believe this one-to-one technique is more specific than fingerprinting. The system functions with contact lenses and eyeglasses, but not with sunglasses. The user tilts the unit so their eye appears in the center of the image capture area. This image passes to a processing unit via network wiring to be compared with the iris code on files. Several doors can be connected to the processing unit.

While the technology is quite accurate, the high cost per door limits its widespread adoption for general commercial applications. Some see a possibility of using eye scanning in mass public one-to-many systems. Others do not. Though extremely accurate, acquisition is difficult to perform at a distance and extremely complicated when the subject is uncooperative.

Facial Systems — This is the most-discussed one-to-many technology in the security industry. The shape of the face, determined by distances between the eyes, eyes and nose and other facial characteristics are put into a template. When viewed via a surveillance camera, the image is matched against the template to verify a person. This is a technology many are counting on in the fight against terrorism as the system could scan large crowds and/or people waiting in line, picking out individuals that should be further scrutinized. Because there is an enormous existing database (drivers licenses, passports, etc.), facial recognition systems also can be used on these images to locate duplicate enrollments and eliminate identity fraud.

Other commonly discussed technologies include signature validation and voice authentication. However, these technologies will tend to be used only in highly specific vertical applications, such as check cashing and telecommunications-based industries. For instance, voice verification is proving invaluable to enhanced call center applications, banking and payment adoption. Multimodal technologies are seeing rapid development, harnessing the power of two or more biometrics, improving accuracy and providing increased flexibilities.

Making the Best Selection

With all these choices, which then is the best biometric to choose? In reviewing how they work, the answer is simple. First of all, is the application one-to-one or one-to-many? What is the security level? There is a big difference whether someone breeches a nuclear warhead storage area versus a student union. How many people need to use it? If there are hundreds of people using the biometric daily and they’re standing in line to do so, that’s unacceptable. Acceptance, effectiveness, throughput and verification time are key differentiators of which technology to use.

Acceptance — The most critical factor in the success of a biometric system is user acceptance of the biometric device. Among the factors that impact acceptance, the device must cause no discomfort or concern for the user. This may be a subjective issue, but it is important to fully explain any concerns users may have. If people are afraid to use the device, they most likely will not use it properly and th
at may result in them not being granted access.

The device must also be easy to enroll people, preventing the frustration of having to go through the process repeatedly. From the get-go, users are predisposed against the system.

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