Biometrics and Access Control

By Dec 15, 2006
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Building security is a growth market for ECs:

Security in residential and commercial buildings is a growth market for the electrical contracting firm; security-related expenditures by building owners and tenants have risen steadily since 2001 and are expected to continue to grow. People want to feel safe and they are turning to technology to fulfill this basic need. High-tech security systems and devices are now turning up in all types and sizes of public and private buildings. This shift is not only due to advances in security technology but also decreasing costs resulting from increasing demand and advances in manufacturing processes.

Whether protecting a data center or an apartment building, a key element in any facility security system is access control; it restricts access to all or part of a facility to authorized individuals. It is a crucial first step to protecting the people and property housed within the protected area. It is verifying that the person who wants to enter a building or a secure area is authorized to do so. Currently, keyed locks, card readers and password keypads typically control access and serve as proxies for individual identification. While effective, they are not foolproof; they can be lost, stolen or duplicated, compromising security. Also, there is no guarantee that the user is authorized without additional identity verification such as visual recognition by a guard. To complicate matters further, an authorized person may be denied access because he or she merely forgot their key, identification card or password

The ideal solution would be to find a reliable way for the security system to recognize each authorized individual directly without the use of proxies such as keys, identification cards and passwords. These proxies only verify that the person requesting access has the needed device or password in their possession and does not guarantee that he or she is actually the authorized person. The use of biometrics in access control systems has the potential to overcome the shortcomings of these traditional devices.

Biometrics is the science of measuring and analyzing human physical and behavioral characteristics for categorization and identification. In access control systems, biometrics provides a method of automatically identifying people without proxies and either allowing or denying access. In essence, with biometrics a person’s body becomes his or her key, identification card or password. A fingerprint reader is an example of a biometric device that is becoming a standard feature on many laptop and handheld computers to protect the owner’s data if the device is lost or stolen. Not only does the use of biometric identification devices such as fingerprint readers in access control systems increase security, they are also faster and easier for the individual wanting access.

Fingerprints are only one biometric that can be used to identify an individual. There are a number of other biometric identification systems that are either commercially available today or are under development and will be available in the future. Each biometric identification system has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages that need to be taken into account when planning an access control system that is based on this technology.

The hand has a number of biometrics that can be used for identification beyond the fingerprints. Systems are available that identify individuals based on their hand shape and dimensions; these are unique to each person. However, even though each individual’s hand is unique, it is difficult for the system to measure it accurately, and hand identification often requires a secondary identification system to improve its reliability. Another biometric technology analyzes the vein pattern on the back of an individual’s hand to determine identity. Vein analysis is more accurate than hand dimension analysis, but less accurate than fingerprint analysis at this time.

In addition, the eye is rich with biometric data that can be used to uniquely identify a person. The web of capillary veins in the back of the eye near the retina is used in retinal identification systems. Similarly, the iris—the colored ring around the pupil—also provides a unique pattern at the microscopic level that can be used for identification. Although these systems are accurate and safe, it is difficult to collect data. People unfamiliar with the technology may be unjustifiably concerned about the possibility of eye damage.

A number of other biometric systems are currently under development and will no doubt be available in the future. These include facial and voice recognition systems as well as gait recognition that attempts to identify an individual by his or her walk. As the science of biometrics progresses, so will the variety and accuracy of methods that will be available for use in access control systems. The popularity and use of biometric identification systems will increase as their reliability increases and their cost decreases.                EC

This article is the result of a research project investigating future markets for electrical contracting firms being sponsored by ELECTRI International.

Glavinich is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or [email protected].


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