• United States

Biometrics for small business

May 22, 20033 mins

* Trade in your pins and passwords for prints

Eric Beck is a personable guy. His home is an inviting place; his friends always welcome.

But Beck also brings work home – files and financial data from Complete Graphix, his North Miami Beach, Fla., promotional products company. So he needed a way to ensure that a friend Web surfing on Beck’s home PC didn’t stumble across his firm’s financial records or client projects.

Tired of authentication methods that rely on pins and passwords that must be changed frequently, Beck decided to try U.Are.U, a fingerprint reader from Digital Persona. With it, he can secure select files on his PC – ensuring only Beck and his wife, Shannon, can open the files.

Biometric authentication uses a person’s distinct characteristics, such as a signature, fingerprint, iris, voice or facial scan, to secure or open a computer, software application, folder or document. It’s also used to control access to facilities or rooms within a corporate office.

Biometrics isn’t the stuff of Hollywood, the CIA or Fortune 500 firms trying to stop corporate espionage. The industry is booming, with a projected $153 million in revenue for 2003 and 47% compounded annual growth through 2007, according to Allied Business Intelligence (ABI), a research firm in Oyster Bay, N.Y. ABI attributes some of the growth to security measures resulting from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Moreover, there are a host of products priced for the home and small office, including Digital Persona’s U.Are.U fingerprint scanner and software ($79.99), and Biolink’s U-Match Mouse, which has a built-in fingerprint reader ($89.95). For remote workers with laptop computers, Identix BioTouch PC card ($179) slips into the PC Card slot, exposing a fingerprint touch pad.

In the case of U.Are.U, setup is a simple three-step process. You plug the biometrics reader into the USB port and install the software. Then you scan two or more fingers; manufacturers recommend scanning multiple fingers, in case one is injured or blemished and the scanner cannot read the print. Next, you set the point at which security function is enabled, such as when the computer boots up, when the screen saver activates, or when a file or application is opened. You can program biometric applications to allow different users different levels of access, so you can lock down specific directories or subdirectories, while leaving others open to access.

Failure rates, including false accept (when the device falsely recognizes the wrong finger or print) or false reject (when it declines the right finger), hover near 1%, says Harvey Bondar, vice president of marketing with Digital Persona. Users simply try again to get it open. If the system corrupts or fails to open, the user can bypass the scan and enter a code word into a dialog box.