Biometrics’ promise as a security solution is finally being realized

As the level of security breaches and transaction fraud increases, biometric systems are on their way to becoming the basis of an array of highly secure identification and personal verification solutions. Protecting a network with passwords can be challenging, as confidential passwords can be easily and inappropriately shared and distributed.

Many corporations today are allowing confidential information to be made accessible to employees via LAN and WANs, unilaterally increasing the numerous risks associated with unauthorized access to this data. With these demands in the forefront, biometric systems are proving to be an effective solution to combat network violations.

“Electrical contractors should really like cable work and networking because there are a lot of opportunities available for [them], especially if the company is in the position to need new access control or physical access solutions,” said Tony Edwards, general manager of Ringdale, a network connectivity and biometric access control company. “The question is if they have the personnel to supply it. There is quite a bit of interest in biometric solutions today, but whether more and more companies are employing it is another issue. We had an electrical contractor involved in an installation but larger projects require multifaceted installers. There is a need to have a group or segment with a good understanding of networking. We are seeing more and more activity in the ability to use electrical infrastructure.”

Obviously, some major challenges exist in deploying biometric solutions in this environment, including the smooth integration of these complex solutions with existing systems and the securing of data storage and general transmission of biometric data.

“If it’s a network product that is being installed, it would require some initial training. In the building infrastructure, it is not entirely different from building biometrics from physical access control, fingerprint recognition and facial recognition systems,” Edwards said. “People are installing these systems if they want to have a building with a controlled environment, reduced cost and increased convenience. Proxy cards, keypad systems and card-reader technologies allow people to gain access to a building and enable the company to know the proper code or PIN of the person entering the building, but you can’t be sure it’s that very person who is actually entering the building. Biometrics are highly popular today because of security and convenience but there is a learning curve associated with the process.”

Today, the idea of implementing biometric systems is being regarded as a necessity for high-security access control, permitting only authorized individuals to gain access through secure areas. These authentication systems require careful monitoring of security settings to ensure minimal risk of unauthorized entry. Electrical contractors clearly need to focus on quality system design and thorough implementation, because a poorly designed system will only cause delays in the authentication process, exposing potential vulnerabilities.

“People in the business like to see security and time clocks, but some people were nervous with fingerprint security at first,” said Trish Stromberg, marketing director for Qqest Software Systems. “Today, most people have grown to accept biometrics on both an employee and management level. For most biometric systems, the software is very simple to install. The directions are on the package and just include setting it up like any software package. We do offer training online so contractors can come to our site and request help and learn more about the packages we offer. Nearly 30 percent of our customers do participate in the training to further understand our software.”

A study recently conducted by The International Biometric Group revealed “fingerprint-based technologies, including finger-scan, are projected to account for $467 million of 2002 industry revenues, far and away the largest technology segment. This growth is attributable to the wide range of applications in which fingerprint- based solutions operate effectively. Among emerging biometric technologies, facial recognition and middleware are projected to reach $200 million and $215 million, respectively, in annual revenues in 2005. Iris-scan is projected to reach $210 million in annual revenue in 2007.” In addition, the study also found network access will be a leading biometric application over the next five years.

“We offer a high tech product that is very convenient and doesn’t need key pads,” said Ted Luminair, product manager for Keyless Pro, maker of biometric, remote control and other locksets. “Fingerprint solutions are a much more secure way to enable access to a building and we even offer battery operated solutions. The basic fingerprint system can be used for up to 25 users and the owner can control, add and delete registrations. It’s a very simple system to use on both ends. It is very much a do-it-yourself system but we also offer others that require a licensed installer to install.”

While complex access control installations require a certain expertise to ensure security levels, ingress and egress processes and system administration capabilities, it is important to note that most basic biometric systems can be easily installed by an electrical contractor with a fundamental knowledge of networking.

“The bulk of deploying biometrics in the verification industry is with a physical access control solution,” said Ashley Kelly, director of marketing for AcSys Biometrics Corporation. “We are seeing additional layers of security in commercial and residential solutions where they want to verify each individual who is entering a building. With a key or proxy card, someone can gain access to the building unchallenged. Biometrics is definitely a marketplace that is going to expand. Most systems are simple to install and come with their own proprietary hardware and software. There are various types of systems available, some more intrusive than others, from cameras for facial recognition and iris recognition to fingerprint systems for hand geometry.”

The National Institutes of Health recently contracted with DynCorp International for a $51 million contract to provide a full spectrum of information technology services and products to federal agencies based on AcSys Biometrics’ face recognition software.

“The U.S. government remains the largest potential buyer of biometric technology and we are thrilled to be recognized and selected for this landmark biometric contract,” said John Sutherland, chief technology officer of AcSys.

All biometric systems are proprietary; this means the inclusion of a fingerprint identification into one system will be incompatible with additional fingerprint systems. Today, biometric systems are required by federal, state and local governments to provide for confidential financial transactions and ensure personal data privacy.

“An electrical contractor does not have to have a broad software knowledge,” added AcSys’ Kelly. “It’s easy enough to just install the software and enter a person’s information, which is then stored onto a database. They should have a basic need for network solutions but they certainly don’t have to be a software programmer because the software does everything itself. It is very important to take into consideration the user interface when installing these systems. For example, if the cameras are being placed on the ceiling, will they be able to get a good look at a person’s face? Fingerprint readers should be installed at different heights for people of varying heights, making sure to install some for handicap users as well. Most systems should be installed with building code solutions in mind.”

“We worked on a project with Logan Airport and Massport to install a baggage screening system so they could see inside each bag going onto the airplanes,” said Bob Salvucci, estimator/project manager for Mass Bay Electrical Corp. “We pulled the primary cables from the street for that job and have done similar projects like that where we did the outside work. I think biometrics is a growing field with more opportunities for electrical contractors, especially in pulling high voltage feeds for companies.”

SPEED is a freelance writer based in Weymouth, Mass. She can be reached at 617.529.2676 or kkspeed@aol.com.