Magazine Article | May 21, 2012

Biometrics Adds New Layer Of Security

By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine

Opportunities exist to integrate biometrics into solutions in many key growth verticals.

Access control solutions are a key component of physical security systems, and companies (particularly those that deal in sensitive data and other material) are always trying to find ways to improve identity authentication. Biometrics solutions that utilize fingerprint, iris scan, or facial recognition data for that authentication, used to be a niche technology offered in high-end private sector and government applications. Now, research firm TechNavio expects the global biometrics market to reach more than $9B by 2014, driven by both physical and cybersecurity concerns.

Part of that growth stems from biometric technology slowly expanding into other types of security solutions. While adding a biometric layer to a typical identification card application is becoming more common, Doug Bolden, U.S. business development manager at Hanscan Identity Management, says that these same types of card authentication solutions have caught the attention of the financial sector. One key growth area will be the banking industry, which is interested in ways to deter identify theft and credit card fraud. Biometric identifiers like fingerprints can be used to validate that the correct person is using a credit card at the point of sale, with the biometric solution interfacing with authentication software sitting on the bank’s servers.

“You can encode your fingerprint, and guarantee validation of the person using the credit card,” Bolden says. “That can significantly reduce credit card fraud. If you can go into a bank and tell them that you can guarantee a reduction in fraudulent credit card use, you definitely have their attention.”

Another potential area of growth in the future could be smartphone authentication applications. Consumers increasingly use their mobile phones to conduct banking transactions, check account balances, purchase items online, and access other personal information. Likewise, enterprise users that access corporate servers may want to protect access to sensitive data. Biometrics on the phone would provide an added layer of protection against over-the-air data theft or use of a lost or stolen device. “We use smartphones in the same way we use laptops now,” Bolden says. “People store important information like passwords and account data on their cell phones. How do you secure those?”

Such solutions could also enhance new POS (point of sale) solutions for phones, like the detachable credit card and smart card readers that are becoming a common fixture in mobile sales and for merchants that set up booths at trade shows and even farmers’ markets. Bolden says he expects to see biometric technology on phones gaining traction over the next three to five years.

Federal Programs, Corporate Security Provide Biometric Opportunities
In terms of vertical markets, Bolden sees computer rooms, research labs, pharmaceutical facilities, and other locations where trade secrets and intellectual property are at risk as good targets for biometric-based access control. “You have to be able to guarantee that only authorized personnel are entering and leaving these types of facilities,” Bolden says. “The typical photo ID or smart card reader isn’t enough. Another level of security can be added using biometrics in combination with ID cards to ensure that the right person has that card.”

There are a number of federal programs in place involving biometrics, some associated with homeland security initiatives. Among them: the Secure Communities biometric program and Next Generation Identification program, US-VISIT, and others. There are multiple opportunities for selling biometric access control systems in the government sector, even at the state and municipal level, provided resellers are able to obtain the proper certifications.

One of the biggest challenges Bolden sees for the channel when it comes to biometrics is ensuring you can offer truly turnkey, plug and play solutions. “You can purchase biometric hardware at a low cost, and those devices usually have a software development kit that allows you to plug into some flavor of server,” Bolden says. “But, from that point on, the reseller has to develop the interface and the middleware that connects you into real applications. If you approach a school that wants to fingerprint all of the children, parents, and staff for an access control solution, there’s a lot of software that has to be written to do that.”

For resellers, Bolden recommends looking for technology partners that can provide complete solutions or those companies that can help a VAR pull together the right combination of hardware and software. Some applications may call for specific equipment certifications (such as FIPS 201), so resellers should be aware of those requirements. But regardless of the vertical market, customers are looking for biometric solutions that won’t require long development cycles to become operational.

“Resellers and customers will take a look at these products and ask ‘How do we make it work?’,” Bolden says. “The key is having a turnkey, scalable system. The device has to work within the context of the network, and you need a complete system to do that.”