Magazine article Security Management

Is Business Embracing Biometrics?

Magazine article Security Management

Is Business Embracing Biometrics?

Article excerpt

As Technology fuels the development of innovative systems and breakthrough ideas, it also puts the security of those systems and ideas in jeopardy. To deal with this critical challenge many private companies and government agencies are turning to biometrics for help.

But the transition to this relatively new technique is slow in coming as speakers at the Card Tech/Secur Tech '91 Conference noted this past April. "The biometric industry was barrelling along until last year," explains Ben Miller, editor and publisher of PIN (Personal Identification News). "The recession and the presence of some poorly supported products hurt the market."

However, Miller believes that recent trends suggest that the market for biometrics is on the upswing. Innovative applications, such as a college meal plan, a relief payments program, and a prisoner identity confirmation program, are expanding the use of biometrics. "If biometrics weren't working, this wouldn't be happening," comments Miller.

Of course, there's a flip side to every rosy picture, and the biometrics industry is not exempt. Due to the recession, with many major firms downsizing and the industry restructuring, industry experts explain that sales in the field have still not recovered to the levels they reached two years ago.

The premature introduction of a number of products has also affected the growth of the industry. "We've always attracted entrepreneurs to this industry, which is good. It provides a fresh flow of innovative ideas," explains Miller. "However, many of these entrepreneurs have not solved all the technical challenges of their technology and are sometimes forced by financial reasons to push products into the market before they're really ready. Consequently, these products give the industry a black eye when they don't work correctly."

Biometric technology ranges from simple signature dynamics to the more sensational retina scanning. While a number of solid products are available, however, many still face development snags that have yet to be worked out at this time.

Take, for example, voice verification. This type of system has not taken off in the marketplace because of technological glitches, yet the range of applications for such technology is quite wide. These applications include network security, privileged information access, remote transactions, physical access control, and in-home incarceration monitoring.

"Despite the problems of this technology," notes Tim Feustel, research engineer at BellCore in Morristown, NJ, "voice verification is still a very popular option. It's a natural, nonintimidating system, it can be used to recognize words, it's relatively ubiquitous since only a telephone is needed, and it has demonstrated popularity.

"The impediments, however," Feustel adds, "prohibit immediate, wider use. These include cost, which will eventually come down, and the need for wider technical expertise and evaluative tools."

As Feustel explains, voice verification technology, like biometrics in general, is still in its evolutionary stage. "Although voice verification performance is quite good," he says, "some difficult problems remain." Feustel has found that people's voices change over time in ways that are not yet understood.

In studies at BellCore, he and other researchers sampled the utterances of three voices over six months. What they discovered was that the utterances by the same individuals varied over time in ways the technology could not identify.

The equal error rate (ERR), the point at which false rejection and false acceptance performance is equal, played a critical factor in this study. "The impact of the changes in voice has a deleterious effect on ERRs," explains Feustel. He continued that EERs can be expected to double over a period of about two weeks. After that, the error remains constant at a high level.

The key to eliminating this problem, he adds, is to take a large number of utterances and base the accept or reject decision on the best score. …

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