Biometrics are starting to make inroads among the business IT departments.

  • A special keyboard manufactured by Key Tronic Corporation has a fingerprint sensor to unlock a workstation.
  • Identix has a PCMCIA card that pops into any available type 2 slot to authenticate the user by fingerprint match.
  • Biometric Access Corporation has a USB fingerprint scanner for desktops. Fries Electronics carried these back in 1999 for $99.
  • Acer has a nifty laptop with a special fingerprint scanner and a modified BIOS that does not allow the computer to boot without an authorized fingerprint scan.
  • Siemens has also jumped into the ring and came up with a mouse with a built-in fingerprint scanner. It keeps unauthorized users from clicking on anything.
  • Biometrics are becoming available by some high-end companies, so you can expect fingerprint scanners to become available cheaply for the home market.

The science of Biometrics is the development of automated systems that can identify a person based on their personal attributes. These systems can measure physical or behavioral attributes unique to an individual to determine their identity.

Physical attribute recognition currently includes the following methods:

This is the method most like the one people use to recognize one another. To “recognize” the face of an individual, the system measures the size and distances and angles between such facial landmarks as eyes, ears, corners of the mouth, chin, eyebrows, and nose. Since it ignores things like facial hair and hair color, it is difficult to spoof by traditional methods used to keep people from recognizing an individual.
Sunglasses, facial putty, and masks are the only methods with a chance of working, as they actually change or hide the faces’ geometry. However, facial recognition is constantly improving. A pair of twins named Michael and Alex Bronstein has developed a 3D scanning system that can even tell the two of them apart. It does require two cameras, but the system has the ability to compare facial structures as they appear in different poses or light conditions, variables that could distort a face seen as a two-dimensional image.
Arguably the oldest form of biometric identification, a fingerprint identification system compares the pattern of ridges on a person’s fingertips with those stored in its memory. The first systems used a camera to “see” the person’s fingerprint, but false fingertips could defeat this method. The latest fingerprint sensors don't actually look at your fingerprint; they measure the electrical capacitance of the live-skin/dead-skin interface between the fingertip and the ridges that make up the print. This means you can't fool it with an overlay anymore. It also means that you would be faced with a window of opportunity after cutting off someone's thumb, since it would eventually be unable to trigger the sensor properly once it was completely "dead".
Hand Geometry
Measuring the shape of a person’s hand is another relatively old method of detecting a person’s identity. Not as accurate as a fingerprint scan, a hand-geometry scan is useful for places that require a relatively high level of security but do not wish to antagonize their workers with a high level of invasiveness. It is often used in places with a potentially high level of illegal-alien labor where workers wouldn’t want their fingerprints on file.
There are two ways to determine a person’s identity using the eye. A retina scan uses the pattern of blood vessels on the retina at the back of the eye to determine identity, while an iris scan uses the complex web of fibers in a person’s iris. The hotter technology with eye recognition is iris scanning, which has the advantage of being able to use simpler optics and a greater standoff distance without losing accuracy, which lends a feeling to the user that it is less invasive. In addition, the iris changes radically at death, making it very difficult to fool by using a detached eye. An additional advantage of an iris scanner is that it could be extended to use with animals like expensive pets and such.

Behavioral attribute recognition uses a person’s actions to identify that person. Methods include:

Voice recognition is more than just how a person sounds when they speak, it is also how they form words, and the rhythm and cadence of their sentences. It is only possible to fool with tape if you can get the person to say the entire code phrase at once, as splicing the statement together from separate words spoken by the person (as was used in the movie Sneakers to spoof the voice-recognition system at their target) wouldn’t have the rhythm of the sentence and the proper spacing between the words that would exist if the sentence were spoken directly.
Recognizing the shape and form of a person’s handwriting is probably the only method of identification older than the fingerprint. In a biometric system, those attributes are coupled with the rhythm and cadence of the writing itself, preventing someone who can merely copy the way a person’s handwriting looks from fooling the system. This method is being used more and more for credit-card verification, and most delivery companies already use some form of this so that a person’s signature can be transmitted to the originator to verify delivery, and prevent lawsuits from those who may claim that their signature was forged.
Body motion
There are some systems that measure aspects such as a person’s walk via pressure pads, or how they move on camera down a hallway, how they punch the security code into a keypad, or other noninvasive recognition method. These systems are useful in places where the facility does not wish the person being identified to know that they are being checked.

Of course, any system worth its salt always uses two- or three-stage security anyway, with one or two biometric tests coupled with a password, keycode, or physical pass such as a keycard/passkey/security dongle (or both.)

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