Stronger Body of Evidence for Biometrics

By Blackwell, Rob | American Banker, March 19, 2002 | Go to article overview

Stronger Body of Evidence for Biometrics


Blackwell, Rob, American Banker


Joel S. Lisker does not have to look far to see how biometric technology could become routine -- when the senior vice president for security and risk management at MasterCard International turns on his computer, he has to have his fingerprint scanned.

Mr. Lisker predicts that biometric technology will eventually become part of every credit card transaction or electronic payment system.

The four-digit personal identification number as a password "is not as reliable as we would like it to be," he said. "It is susceptible to compromise."

MasterCard, of Purchase, N.Y., has had some success with adapting biometrics for commercial use, but Mr. Lisker said it will be years before the emerging technology is commonplace.

Mr. Lisker tested several kinds, including hand-geometry scanners and facial-recognition, iris-imaging, and speech-recognition devices. Though the company continues to examine other technologies, fingerprint scanning was the one he deemed easiest to use, and it avoids what he says is the biggest problem of biometrics -- the false negative.

When MasterCard first looked into the technology, in 1995, the false-negative rate was unacceptably high, he said. But in the company's latest trial, it found only six false rejects out of 24,493 attempts.

Another challenge for proponents of biometrics will be consumer adoption. MasterCard offered the fingerprint-testing program for 43 months and successfully enrolled 98.3% of its customers who chose to participate.

Despite what many describe as the high cost of biometric technology and implementation, large companies are not the only ones using it.

The Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union began using fingerprinting biometrics in 1997, installing it in five machines in its automated branches.

Gail Koehler, the credit union's vice president of technology and retail delivery, said the machines have been such a hit that two will be added this year. They have allowed those branches to move beyond being sophisticated automated teller machines, she said. Now they are more like electronic credit union outlets, where customers can do almost everything they would at a traditional branch -- including apply for and receive loans.

"The reason we started deploying these units was that (they) were going to be 100 miles from any of our manned branches," Ms. Koehler said. "We wanted a way to secure our members' accounts, because the offerings there were so much broader than a regular ATM."

Ms. Koehler said the cost of installing the biometric units -- less than $100 each -- was hardly prohibitive for the $312-million asset credit union.

She said customers have started taking to the technology after initial fears about privacy violation. She added that the most common misconception was that the credit union keeps a customer's fingerprint on file.

The unit actually reads a finger's geometry, measuring distances between ridges and other particulars, and translates it into an algorithm.

Ms. Koehler said the system has dramatically cut down on fraud -- a long-lauded goal of biometrics -- but that, she added, was a result of more than just the technology itself: Criminals are reluctant to insert their finger into the slot because of the worry that it would make them easier to track. …

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