The Ins and Outs of Buying and Using Biometrics
Submitted by TDSi | Date:
Finding the Right Biometrics Solution
Initially the options for Biometrics were fairly limited, with fingerprint readers being a popular choice. However, the market has expanded rapidly in recent years to offer other choices or combinations of choices that ensure that the highest levels of security can be maintained, keeping a step ahead of efforts designed to beat the security protocols.
Finding the right Biometric solution for the job should involve careful planning and advice from expert installers. A combination of different methods can offer the best solution across a site, making the most of different locations and being well suited to the traffic likely to use them. Traditional fingerprint readers should not be discounted, they still offer a cost-effective, secure and reliable access control, however they may not be suitable for all conditions (places that are dirty, wet or harsh and restrict physical contact for example). Some of the rising stars and future options of Biometric control include:
● Facial Recognition – Using the unique shape and rendering of the human face, these are already becoming a popular and easy-to-use option. Modern readers can operate in virtually all light conditions (including the dark by use of an inbuilt light) with a False Acceptance Rate (FAR) of less than 0.0001% - offering great flexibility combined with impressively high levels of reliability and security. Facial recognition is ideal for most situations, generally a user's face is highly visible and there is no need to touch the unit which makes it ideal for clean rooms, operating theatres or anywhere else that contamination (from key cards for example) would be undesirable.
● Sub-dermal Recognition – Building upon the fingerprint idea, these readers ignore the top layer of skin and instead focus on lower levels to make their assessment of authentication. This is an ideal solution in environments where harsh weather or other issues may damage or in some way change the fingerprint and make it difficult to read. Examples of possible locations include heavy industry plants, aggregate works and quarries, off-shore oil rigs and building sites.
● Vein Recognition - Taking the idea of internal Biometrics scanning a step further, these readers look at the unique pattern of veins and blood vessels (within a user's finger for example) to provide highly reliable authentication. Because the size and shape of circulatory system doesn't change (in adults), Vein Recognition avoids the potential problems of scanning external features, which can change due to environmental, aging or even health issues.
● Hand Geometry – Another take on the unique dimensions of a user's hand, the technology ascertains the size of the fingers, thumb and palm for authentication – providing an alternative to a fingerprint reader.
● Iris Scanning – Unlike facial recognition, these scanners concentrate specifically on a single point, using the complex shape of the eye's iris to authorise access. Because of its complex nature, Retina Scanning is mostly employed in specialist, high security applications that demand specialized security – such as national defense installations for example.
● Heart Recognition – An upcoming Biometrics technology based upon the unique results of an individual's ECG reading, this is ideal for high security environments. There are also different options for readers, from finger scanners to contactless chest mounted straps with wireless connectivity to access control systems. Heart Recognition offers a highly secure, reliable and user-friendly solution that is convenient even in harsh or remote environments and ideal for military deployment for example.
● Walking Gait Analysis – Another upcoming Biometrics technology that analyses the way an individual walks to ascertain identity and authorization. Unobtrusive, Walking Gait Analysis does however require the space for the user to be able to walk within the authentication zone and is therefore better suited to open environments or large interior spaces – but could find favour in large public areas such as airports of sports venues for example.
Integrating Systems to Realize Benefits Beyond Security
As already mentioned biometrics readers are a useful tool when it comes to compliance and measuring the flow of people in relation to productivity. It is also a very good way of accounting for staff movements in regards to Time & Attendance records. Whereas a tokenbased clocking in system can potentially be abused (for instance; ‘buddy' use, whereby employees fraudulently clock in for another employee), Biometrics readers require the individual in question to be present to clock in. In instances of high security (such as a bank) or environmental sensitivity or danger (such as a laboratory or nuclear installation for example) it is advantageous to be clear if individuals were indeed present at key times.
In facilities that cater for children, the elderly or other vulnerable people Biometrics can be used not only to stop unauthorized individuals from entering but also to stop vulnerable individuals from entering dangerous areas or leaving the security of the site unattended.
The accuracy of Biometrics systems can also be very useful for use with building fire and evacuation systems. In the event of a fire or similar emergency, knowing exactly which people are where, can be a crucial in evacuation or rescue situations. It is also very easy to ‘lock down' certain areas to prevent people wandering into dangerous parts of the building (through fire or even into contaminated sectors).
Different Biometrics systems can also be integrated together to offer the best solution. For example a bank may only need simple MIFARE card readers or fingerprint readers for lowlevel secure areas (such as meeting rooms) but will definitely want to increase the security of access control (perhaps using facial recognition) around any areas containing money or records. Using lower cost options alongside cutting edge solutions can be an excellent way to make the most of the access security budget.
Potential Issues with Biometrics
Inevitably there can be sensitivities from some sectors on the issue of holding private Biometric data, which is akin to medical records. Whilst the benefits of using Biometric readers are undeniable, any data that is collected has to be carefully and securely stored to prevent any loss, theft or other potential misuses which will contravene UK and EU data privacy laws. Local laws can also affect the ways in which data is stored - in France for instance, security data has to be stored on a card which is then kept by the user. There are also obvious ethical issues on holding data that could be used, or misused, in other circumstances where somebody's identity or location at a certain time is in question. Any organization that uses Biometric readers and stores the information from them needs to be fully aware of the legal and ethical obligations from doing so and to be sensitive to any potential objections or anxieties that could surface from it.
As mentioned earlier in this paper, Biometric access control needs to offer a worthwhile return on investment. If an older token-based system provides a reliable service that works well in the context it is used then the expense of upgrading to a Biometric alternative may not be worthwhile. Similarly, for lower security situations it may be prudent to avoid any potential ethical problems (as above) and to use a token-based system which is cost-effective and simple to use.
There may also be some situations where it simply isn't practical to install an expensive and relatively fragile detector – perhaps due to very extreme environmental conditions or even the threat of vandalism in some urban areas. However, used effectively Biometrics are a highly valuable tool in providing excellent access control.
Whilst Biometrics access control may, at first glance, appear to be revolutionary (and no doubt some solutions are avant-garde in their approach) essentially they simply offer new, highly secure and convenient ways to stop unauthorized individuals or groups entering restricted areas.
The choices and their benefits are numerous, so any organization considering them should look closely at their overall access control needs before deciding if Biometrics will offer a sound return on investment. For high security needs, Biometrics systems offer very attractive False Acceptance Rates and by doing away with keycards and tokens give users greater freedom.
Whilst there are drawbacks (for some access control situations Biometrics may be too expensive or even too fragile), these new systems are shaping the direction and the future of the access control market.