Fingerprinting Plays Key Role in Biometrics Boom

Posted on March 08th, 2005

In the IT space, low-priced fingerprinting systems represent a potential solution to a number of problems. Companies need to supplement password systems, which can be easily compromised, and fingerprinting represents a stronger security check. It also has the potential to lower IT costs.

Fingerprinting is an authentication technique that has helped law enforcement officials identify potential criminals for decades, but recently it has started to gain wider usage. The technique is emerging as the most popular form of biometrics, and much of the budding interest is coming from government agencies looking to enhance physical security, such as access to buildings. Corporations are also making a move toward using fingerprinting technology to provide more reliable identification of employees, business partners and customers.

In 2004, fingerprinting accounted for US$367 million of the $1.2 billion biometric companies generated in worldwide revenue, according to market research firm International Biometric Group. This time-tested technique has gained popularity because it is the most mature biometric system. As use has expanded beyond law enforcement, pricing has dropped. ‘A fingerprint scanner costs only $50 to $100,’ according to David Ostlund, a consultant with International Biometric Group.

Strengthening Weak Links

In the IT space, low-priced fingerprinting systems represent a potential solution to a number of problems. Companies need to supplement password systems, which can be easily compromised, and fingerprinting represents a stronger security check.

Fingerprinting also has the potential to lower IT costs. ‘Currently, companies pay help desk personnel a lot of money to handle support calls, and many problems arise when users have problems with or forget their passwords,’ said Gerry Gebel a senior analyst with the Burton Group. ‘Fingerprinting offers companies an easier-to-maintain authentication system.’

As a result, the technology has started to be used in a few niche markets to ensure that only the right individuals access certain services. Financial services represents an area where new security options are often readily adopted. These firms need to be certain that employees and customers are who they claim to be when they undertake various transactions. Firms such as Fidelity Investments have started to use fingerprinting devices for user identification.

Potential Uses Abound

Health care providers are also starting to rely on fingerprinting when they check in new patients. By forcing patients to enter their fingerprints into biometrics scanners before they receive services, health care companies can cut down on the number of individuals who fraudulently use other individuals’ insurance cards. Fingerprinting can also come in handy before hospitalized patients undergo treatment. A quick check of patients’ fingerprints will make it clear to nurses and doctors that patients are properly identified as they are about to undergo various surgical procedures.
 
Vendors are also finding more uses for fingerprinting technology. As employees have become more mobile, notebook theft has become a vexing problem. Fingerprint scanning is emerging as one way to make sure that mobile devices do not fall into the wrong hands. Last year, for example, IBM outfitted its ThinkPad systems with fingerprinting capabilities so thieves cannot boot up the system.

Corporations also want to safeguard PCs — not only the devices themselves but often the data that resides on them. In response, Microsoft Corporation has begun incorporating fingerprint scanning into PC keyboards.

‘Recently, there has been a big push by cellular carriers to use fingerprinting to enhance handset security,’ said Erik Michielsen, a director at market research firm ABI Research Authentec Inc. has helped Korea Telecom and Japan NTT DoCoMo incorporated its fingerprint sensor into their wireless handsets, so users do not have to worry about their phones being hijacked.