It never forgets a face

Biometric authentication uses identity verification unique to an individual that cannot (except in the most extreme circumstances) be lost or stolen.

Establish identity
Biometrics can replace traditional personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords or other symbols used to establish identity and are frequently used in conjunction with other identification technologies - such as smart cards.
Government sectors around the world have been among the early adopters of biometric identity and access management solutions. The use of the technology is currently expanding in that sector and into other areas for both physical and logical access control as more organisations and businesses look to benefit from the enhanced security and convenience of biometrics.
Applications in all sectors are proving inspirational for government uses as the established techniques and applications can more easily be transferred in favour of attempting to reinvent the wheel.
Healthcare identification cards, patient identification, passports and identification cards are also regarded as prime potential uses though the earliest common applications are in access control to secure areas and computer equipment.
The value of biometrics for many institutional users is that once an identity has been established, users do not have to be put through other rigorous authentication processes in order to bring the system into use. They have only to present their finger, thumb, palm, eye or face to a reader which associates this unique information with the identity already established.

Fingerprint biometrics
Fingerprint biometrics is currently and will remain the most common form of this technology area as it is the most widely deployed; is the most mature; and therefore has a wider established equipment base producing less expensive systems than some of the alternatives.
Uses of fingerprints and thumbprints include access control; alternatives or accompaniments to smartcards used in cashless catering in schools; to give access to computers and mobile devices - and one chain of stores in Germany now allows registered and approved customers to use thumbprints to make payments at the checkout.
In this last application, shoppers' registration includes bank details as well as the finger or thumbprint - and is authenticated by a passport and a bank card. Registration is said to take just a few minutes. The thumbprint can also be used as a loyalty card.
Shoppers can control their spending by requesting a daily limit on their spending through the system. Older people are reported to like the system as well as young people, because it stops any embarrassment with coins or PINs.

The face
One area where fingerprint ID is not generally workable is in construction. Here workers normally have dust-covered or scuffed finger ends so alternatives must be found. Face readers, growing in popularity as camera technology becomes increasingly accurate have been applied as one alternative. At the new Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel in southern China - said to be the world’s second largest building - the 12,000 construction workers used 13 face readers placed at the employee entrance to authenticate themselves as they head into work.
Currently, this figure is near the maximum number of faces in the database - the technology will have to advance for it to be useful in higher level security applications with many thousands of options for each read.
Face readers are also being developed for network access control - using webcams that can be used to authenticate users as they sit down in front of their computers.
One part of the face that is proving more useful currently is the well-established technology of iris scanning and reading. Airports around Europe are registering approved travellers - who have agreed to security and other checks - and allowing them to pass untroubled through the airport after having their eyes scanned by access control readers.
For instance, the Iris Recognition Immigration System (Iris) at Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal lets registered passengers enter the UK without queuing to see an immigration officer at passport control.
Air travellers enrolled in the scheme can walk up to an automated barrier, look into a camera and, if the system recognises them, enter the UK. The biometric technology works by photographing and storing a passenger’s iris patterns in a database, along with their passport details and immigration status in the UK.

Immigration control
There are plans to have half the countries in the world, covering three-quarters of the world's population, using required biometric visas with their fingerprints checked against the government database, before travelling to the UK.
The draft Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Pilot) Regulations 2008 will enable the Home Secretary to operate a pilot for issuing "biometric immigration documents" for certain foreign nationals who are subject to immigration control. Certain groups will be required to provide biometric information, fingerprints and a photograph of their face, when they make an application for leave to remain in the UK.
The Regulations make safeguards for the use and retention of the biometric information and set out the consequences of a failure to comply. For the purposes of this limited pilot, the Border and Immigration Agency will issue successful applicants with a biometric immigration document in the form of a vignette rather than an identity card. The pilot will not involve any additional charge to collect biometrics. Initially the pilot will be run by the Croydon office and only apply to those resident in certain London postcodes.

Hand features
Palm readers - no not the cross your hands with silver type! - are regarded as one of the most secure forms of biometric ID. They read the blood patterns in the hand and therefore are - say the makers - impossible to replicate. These are finding application in healthcare with patient identification - and access control for staff into sensitive areas.
California has recently introduced a system of taking the handprints of prisoners out on parole and others who must report to police regularly.
Handwriting Recognition is another area of biometrics that, in recent years, has seen significant improvements in recognition techniques for data entry into hand-held terminal and computer systems.
The financial sector is taking an interest in biometrics ID development. Early adopters include the Continental Trust Bank in Nigeria, which has implemented a savings card system based on biometrics and 2D codes (usually box shaped graphics with black and white blocks or dots which can carry enough information to reveal biometric features, which can be compared with the person without reference to a database).
The bank’s savings account customers can now be positively and securely identified by personal information, including a photo and biometric information, which is printed onto the ID card in the form of a machine-readable 2D code. When the customer wishes to make a transaction, the card is inserted into an ID card reader, which instantly displays the information on an LCD screen, allowing the teller to verify identity.
High security, low cost
The system provides the bank and its customers with a high degree of security at low cost. This is because the savings cards can be produced much more economically than alternative technologies and the verification system functions standalone - without the need for connection to computers or networks.
At the same time, global financial institution the ING Group is using a biometric identity management system featuring fingerprint readers to enable the company's dealers quickly and securely to access central dealing room computers. As well as improving security and regulation compliance, the fingerprint system has improved dealer productivity. Previously security was maintained through complex passwords and there were delays when these needed to be changed.
Biometrics is just one solution to security and identity authentication - and should be mixed and matched with other technologies under the Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) umbrella: barcoding and 2D codes, Radio Frequency Identification and Smartcards. But in the right application biometrics is an effective solution and will continue to increase in usage.
There have, however, been many barriers to adoption, such as the varying approaches to security taken by different organisations and certain security issues. Privacy concerns have been voiced and the industry is being encouraged to take on board these concerns and establish safeguards at the design stage.
As organisations move to meet compliance regulations that mandate stricter access control processes, and as security products improve, particularly web-based ones - experts believe that many more organisations will take up biometrics. The AIDC
This article was written by Ian Byfield, communications manager of the European Centre of Excellence for Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC).
The AIDC Centre is a not-for-profit organisation supported by Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, with a mission to be an authoritative, independent and non-commercial source of information about AIDC technologies such as bar coding, RFID, smartcards and biometrics. It has a base in Halifax where there is 1,000 sq m of space dedicated to demonstrating the technologies in live applications - including Local Government, Healthcare, Logistics, Manufacturing and the Food Chain - and an office specialising in smartcards in Sheffield. Companies and organisations can visit the Halifax site and discover the value of AIDC for their own applications by actually seeing and using data capture devices. The Centre operates a Business Assist programme for SMEs and provides training and enterprise generation: working with organisations and individuals to develop new technologies and applications.

For more information

Please register to comment on this article