Fingerprint biometrics go wireless, get faster and offer more security

Two new fingerprint identification technologies that promise faster, more secure transmission of fingerprint biometric information are being tested by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The technologies are targeted at use in the Personal Identification Verification (PIV) cards most government employees and contractors will have to carry by the end of this year.  The cards with the new biometric technologies promise to improve protection from identity theft and meet the standardized accuracy criteria for federal identification cards under the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD 12) which basically defines the prerequisites  needed to enter federal buildings.

According to NIST, its researchers assessed the accuracy and security of two technologies that, if accepted for government use, would offer improved features.

The first lets the biometric data on the PIV card to travel across a secure wireless interface to eliminate the need to insert the card into a reader. The second uses an alternative authentication technique called “match-on-card” in which biometric data from the fingerprint scanner is sent to the PIV smart card for matching by a processor chip embedded in the card. The stored data never leave the card. The advantage of this technology is that if your card is lost and then found in the street, your fingerprint template cannot be copied, NIST said.

The NIST tests addressed two outstanding questions associated with match-on-cards. The first was whether the smart cards’ electronic “keys” can keep the wireless data transmissions between the fingerprint reader and the cards secure and execute the match operation all within a time budget of 2.5 seconds. The second question was whether the “match-on-card” operation will produce as few false acceptance and false rejection decisions as traditional match-off-card schemes where more computational power is available.

The researchers found that 10 cards with a standard 128-byte-long key and seven cards that use a more secure 256-byte key passed the security and timing test using wireless. On the accuracy side, one team met the criteria set by NIST and two others missed narrowly. The computer scientists plan a new round of tests soon to allow wider participation.

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