Biometrics - Hand recognition tech. - Out smarting the identity thieves

Outsmarting the identity thieves

New wave of electronic gadgets makes it possible to toss away your keys and passwords and make your body work for you instead

Elaine O'Connor

The Province

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The BioSaf metal safe can only be unlocked with a finger scan.

The ClipDrive Bio uses fingerprint technology to restrict access to encrypted data.

This Pantech phone requires a fingerprint to unlock it.

Identity theft is a well-known scourge. To fight it, cutting-edge security systems are turning to biometrics: identification using voice, face or iris recognition and digital hand and fingerprinting.

Until recently, few biometric devices were marketed commercially -- but research and development has had a huge boost from governments looking to tighten borders and heighten security. The investment is creating spin-offs for civilian interfaces such as ATMs and consumer biometric products. Industry groups estimate the sector generated $719 million in 2003 -- a figure projected to jump to $4.6 billion by 2008.

So say goodbye to passwords: In the next generation of security gear, your body is the only key you need.

Several of IBM's ThinkPad models now come with biometric protection in the form of built-in finger print scanners for secure power-ups and logins (from $600 US; www.ibm.com/products/us).

For other PCs, the onClick BioScan PCMCIA card reader plugs in to serve as a biometric lock ($170 US; www.thinkgeek.com). The onClick BioMouse plugs into your USB and functions like a regular mouse, but with bio-authentication ($89.99 US; www.thinkgeek.com).

And Secugen's Keyboard III has a fingerprint lock by the escape key to enable password bypass with the touch of a sensor pad (from $149 US; www.secugen.com).

Biometrics are also poised to put an end to lost keys and lockouts. Adel's USL-R biometric fingerprint door lock secures front doors automatically and unlocks with the touch of one of 30 stored fingerprints ($200 US; www.amazon.com).

The BioCert Guardian biometric door lock records up to 138 users to include extended family ($199 US; www.biometricsdirect.com). One Vancouver condominium complex already uses biometrics to admit residents.

Biometrics can also protect files in the event of a lost USB flash drive. The Trek Thumbdrive Touch and Swipe models let users access data by pressing or running a finger across the biometric pad (from $100 US; www.thumbdrive.com). The BioCert Odyssey ClipDrive also uses the technology to permit access to encrypted data, matching up to 16 prints (from $100 US; www.biometricsdirect.com).

Biometric cellphones are also in the pipeline. Pantech's GI100 Fingerprint Recognition Phone has a finger ID pad to unlock the phone and make up to 10 speed-dial calls cued to each finger. It includes a colour screen and camera with video caller ID (from $365 US; www.pantech.com).

The BioSaf GM200 Metal Safe promises to keep cash and firearms accessible to a select few using finger scans: no locks to be picked or combinations to be stolen ($320 US; www.fingerprintsafe.com).

Employers are looking to biometrics for managing staff. Recognition Systems and Inception Tech is marketing a biometric office system, the Handpunch 1000 and InfinityTime Time and Attendance Kit, that uses handprints to take attendance ($1,800 US; www.amazon.com).

Other biometrics manufacturers are poised to license their technology in even more consumer goods.

Cross Match's Authorizer chip is marketed for everything from cellphones and credit cards to cars and handbags (www.crossmatch.com). Its portable fingerprint scanners are used by the U.S. military to fingerprint insurgents in the field.

Identix's FaceIt program uses facial recognition (face measurement, topography and notation of features as small as scars and pores) and is currently used by U.S. and U.K. police (www.identix.com).

Hitachi's developing a finger scanner that goes a step further. It measures vein patterns to make an ID and unlock your car or PC.

Fujitsu's infrared palm reader, the Contactless Palm Vein Authentication System scans vein structures in the user's hand from a distance away, to improve hygiene of equipment.

CAN BIOMETRICS BE BUSTED?

Concerns about thieves lopping off fingers to activate biometrics are largely urban myth, though there are accounts of devices being fooled by latex or gelatin moulds of prints.

But as technology advances, cheating becomes more difficult. The latest biometric sensors test not only for print matches, but for signs of life: blood flow, capillary and tissue structure. Sensors are set to become more complex: Some researchers are developing an anxiety index that won't operate if the user's biometric indicators appear stressed -- to foil thieves holding a gun to your head.

WHO'S USING BIOMETRICS?

In Canada, biometrics are being tested on diplomatic passports, which contain a chip with a picture and personal information. Canada Customs' CANPASS iris scan system is also operating at major airports.

Canadian company SecuriDome is developing biometrics to secure cheques, bank and ATM withdrawals (www.securidome.com).

Many law enforcement agencies have switched from manual to digital fingerprinting. Los Angeles county, for example, has established a digital database of seven million prints for use in courts, criminal justice and probation.

U.S. social services are also using biometrics. Arizona, Texas, and New York use digital fingerprinting to track welfare recipients and crack down on fraud.

Voice recognition is common in large corporations: AT&T, GM, and Hertz use voice recognition to control access to offices and files.

Australia uses fingerscans in ATMs to identify bank employees authorized to service machines.

 The Vancouver Province 2005