Will 2005 measure up as the year of business biometrics?

Enterprises looking to biometrics for more than just security may be pleasantly surprised if they take the time to investigate what the technology can offer.

After many false starts, this could actually be the year that biometrics becomes part of mainstream business in the U.S., according to an industry analyst.

"This is the year that message begins to get out," says Herb Strauss, vice president and principal national security analyst for Gartner Group. "Folks are becoming more inquisitive and calling companies for concepts and ideas."

Today's fingerprint sensors aren't just about security. They can be used to quickly power on/power off devices, to customize program launches to correspond with individual fingers, and for secure printing of confidential documents. Such was apparent during the introduction of some biometric-enhanced product lines, billed as "convenience-based security," at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Strauss points to increasingly vocal acceptance and adoption of biometrics by the Department of Defense. "As they begin to say that the technology is good, companies will look too." Strauss said that good growth is forecasted but there is caution in the wind. The uncertainty in the market right now is not good for vendors. There is logic to make the investment, but companies are still hesitating.

Strauss believes businesses are looking for more understanding and to find a competitive advantage. "Security alone is a hard sell," he says. For biometrics to catch on with U.S. businesses, there needs to be a solution that the market believes in.

Aside from defense use, the United States is still catching up with Pacific Rim countries, where biometrics in cell phones can be used to protect point-of-sale purchasing. The phones operate like a smart card, debiting an account at the time of purchase. The phone is also used to protect personal and business files, advanced check in at airports and hotels, and more.

Art Stewart, the vice president of business development for AuthenTec of Melbourne, Fla., said much of biometrics' appeal is convenience for managing the multitude of passwords individuals need on a daily basis. Using the small, integrated sensors coupled with applications residing on a PC or mobile phone, a consumer can either touch the sensor, or perform a simple swipe, and the application will apply the password.

Shoieb Yunus, Founder and CEO of EzValidation Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., believes biometrics is going to go mainstream in the enterprise market. His company's EZ Passport works with AuthenTec and Fujitsu sensors to secure sensitive data via "right click" or from application user interface. It prevents unauthorized users from accessing critical data on the PC.

"Any .exe file can be fingerprint protected," Yunnus said. "A traveling salesperson can secure contact management software. It will now be prompting for a fingerprint." A password bank securely stores passwords for single sign-on to Windows applications and Web sites, replacing user name and password login with a convenient, single fingerprint touch.

Another company, silex technology america Inc. of Salt Lake City, is touting SecurePrint, a new security product that allows companies to restrict access to printers to authorized users only.

Gary Bradt, VP of the biometrics divisions said the product was inspired by HIPAA and SOX requirements. "People are uneasy about running down to a printer and grabbing stuff before anyone sees it," explained Bradt. He cited shared printer access and competition between coworkers as a driving force behind the demand for printer privacy and security.

A SecurePrint equipped network printer allows an enrolled/authorized individual to touch a fingerprint scanner at the computer to authorize sending a document to the printer. The document won't print until the sender again touches a fingerprint reader on the printer.

Biometrics is catching on because the technology is overcoming some of the problems of its past. The cost of fingerprint sensors has dropped considerably, making the technology more affordable. According to Yunnus, fingerprint biometrics has a 60% share of the market, far ahead of other technologies such as facial or iris recognition.

And until recently, there has been no standardization of fingerprint templates. The proprietary solutions are now giving way to a movement towards standards. Yunnus says that a more customer-centric generation of software products will also drive the biometrics evolution.

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