Growing swiftly

When it comes to biometric technology, we immediately think of its futuristic use in James Bond movies. Using biometrics to control access to corporate networks is unlikely to enter our minds. The technology is considered expensive and difficult to deploy; hence the benefits of biometrics in the business environment are often overlooked.

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By  Angela Sutherland Published  December 18, 2005

|~|fiona2-website.jpg|~|“Approximately 50% of companies see biometrics as a better alternative to PIN and there is an increasing acceptance of biometrics among the general population due to concerns of identity theft. In addition, government regulations have been a significant driving factor.” Fiona D'Arcy, director of communications and marketing at Daon. |~|When it comes to biometric technology, we immediately think of its futuristic use in James Bond movies. Using biometrics to control access to corporate networks is unlikely to enter our minds. The technology is considered expensive and difficult to deploy; hence the benefits of biometrics in the business environment are often overlooked. However, things are changing. Enterprises are gradually accepting these solutions as a method for combating careless user practices and eliminating the costly process of re-issuing passwords and usernames to employees. With end-users having to remember multiple user names and passwords, the possibility to replace these with biometrics is becoming an attractive option. The International Biometric Group (IBG), an independent integration and consulting firm, predicts the global revenue from biometrics products and services will grow to US$2.6 billion by the end of the year and US$4.6 billion by 2008. Biometrics is the study of measurable biological characteristics, and in the field of computer security, the term refers to authentication techniques that rely on measurable physical characteristics, which can be automatically checked. There are several types of biometric identifications, which include the analysis of facial characteristics, the geometry of the hand and fingers, the retina, signature and the pattern of veins on hands and wrists. The most common areas of analysis, however, are voice, fingerprint and iris. One nation that is making use of this technology is the UAE. It is one of the first countries to use an iris scan at most points of entry. Officials started the “Eye Scan Project” in 2000 by installing systems at three major prisons across the country. However, the project was expanded to ports and airports in 2002. For example, at Dubai Airport, one of the busiest in the world, all arriving passengers have to wait to have their eyes scanned. Iris recognition is hailed as of the most accurate techniques of biometrics, in part because the human iris does not change from birth. A scan measures the striations, pits and furrows to establish an identity. No two irises are alike. There is no correlation between the iris patterns of even identical twins, or the right and left eye of an individual. Furthermore, as Dubai readies itself to comply with stringent passport control regulations to manage 30 million visitors by 2010, it has introduced e-gate cards. These cards display personal details such as the user’s name, alongside a photograph and a digital record of the cardholder’s fingerprint. “Every person’s fingerprint is unique. It cannot be duplicated. The e-gate will only allow those passengers into the area whose fingerprints match the enrolled identifications. We are a small department, however we manage over 15 million passengers annually. This means automation is the way forward,” says Lt. Colonel Khalid Bin Lootah, IT section chief of Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department (DNRD). “We use biometrics to control our borders. Visitors with criminal records entering the UEA change their identities and passports and it is very difficult to identify forged documents without sophisticated technologies. [Biometrics] provide accurate information about those entering the UAE. Also, biometrics is good in instances where we do not have any data of a person entering the UAE,” he explains. The airport has experienced incidents of impersonation, where visitors with criminal records in their homeland have tried to enter the UAE by changing their traveling documents. However, with the use of biometrics technology it has managed to control it. “It is not only about taking advantage of the system. It is also about interacting with the citizens of the UAE on a social level. We have adopted biometrics for the safekeeping of everyone. Once an individual is in the UAE, we try to keep them safe,” he notes. Furthermore, the technology has also increased the efficiency of the airport’s delivery channels. The return-on-investment (ROI) for Dubai Airport is on several fronts. At the forefront, however, is customer satisfaction. Visitors no longer have to wait for long durations. Secondly, the workload of the airport staff is reduced. Dubai Airport says the initial investments may be high when it comes to biometrics; however, the end result is great, which makes the investment worthwhile. It says biometrics technology plays a critical role in collecting data because enterprises and even individuals are becoming increasingly security conscious. The benefits of biometrics are many, according to Mark Pawlewski, principal researcher at BT Research Centre. When it comes to using fingerprints, iris scanning or similar technology to protect corporate data and IT systems, there are a number of areas where the investment proves its worth. “Biometric [technologies] provide a third-level of user authentication – ‘who you are' in addition to ‘what you know’ and ‘what you have’. But there are less obvious bonuses from using biometrics solutions as well. [They] can provide accountability and support a strengthened audit system. Employees accessing confidential documents or files cannot deny their actions, and biometrics can be used to provide strong evidence in case of disputes,” Pawlewski explains. “Another benefit this technology brings is the level of convenience for the user that simple ‘command and response' systems such as passwords, PINs and tokens do not provide. There are no tokens to lose or passwords to forget, and, with the right design, access is almost instantaneous. Not only does this make logging on to the network easier for the user, but it can save the IT department money by taking up less time on password resets and user training.” The accurate deployment of such technologies is crucial. Pawlewski says the important factor in any biometric implementation is to identify what level of security is required. Enterprises may decide that not everyone needs to use biometrics, or that they only need to be used for certain applications. Biometric authentication needs to be positioned in the framework of the wider security picture. Passwords, security tokens, evidence of presence at a specific location (such as an IP network address) and biometrics contribute in different ways to the certainty of an employee’s identity. Managing these various aspects of identity in the evolving digital networked economy will need high-volume, low-cost authentication services. According to Pawlewski, one company that has embraced biometric technologies as part of its IT security is Banque De Luxemborg. Six hundred employees have been issued with biometric smart cards with fingerprint readers to replace as many as ten different passwords for each individual. This enables an employee to access the corporate network more easily, and has reduced pressure on the IT department. In addition, these same biometric smart cards can be used to pay at restaurant, access certain buildings and car parks, and even use the lifts. Daon, which is involved with a number of governments across the Middle East on a range of security initiatives, says the Gulf States have been quick to recognise the importance of biometric identity assurance in playing a key role in border and transportation security. Fiona D'Arcy, director of communications and marketing at Daon, says the overall biometrics market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 39% through 2008, and mostly government organisations are driving this growth followed by pharmaceutical, healthcare, financial and retail organisations. She says the uptake is growing at an incredibly fast pace with border control initiatives, immigration projects, civil identity solutions, employee access control applications, e-passports and registered traveler programs. “Biometric technology offers enhanced privacy to customers and enhanced security of systems and applications deployed. What a person has are things like ID cards, which can be lost or stolen, what a person knows are things like PINs and passwords, which can be forgotten and stolen, but biometrics are unique and cannot be lost, stolen or repudiated,” D’Arcy explains. However, she believes the greatest challenge facing the biometrics industry is the fast development of standards. “The technology is maturing rapidly and at times it may be not [all that easy] for businesses to adopt it. “However over 50% of companies see biometrics as a better alternative to PIN and there is an increasing acceptance of biometrics among the general population due to concerns of identity theft. In addition, government regulations have been a significant driving factor.” Tony O’Connor, head of security risk at the National Bank of Dubai (NBD), shares D’ Arcy’s sentiments. He believes biometrics technology may not be all that cost-effective, but says the investment is worth it. “While it is true that biometric devices are expensive, security issue aside, the cost-saving benefits of streamlining the password and physical key procedures outweigh the cost of the technology,” O’Connor adds. Like any emerging technology, the accuracy of biometric scanning is questionable. Although progress has been made in areas of research and development, the solutions have limitations. Voice recognition, for example, continues to be hampered by the variability of both transducers and local acoustics. Retinal scanning has a number of problems with user acceptance. In the case of iris scanning, ease of use and systems integration are still areas of weakness. Instead of simplifying users’ security responsibilities, biometrics can add more complexity with additional pieces of information to remember or carry. “Although vendors are working toward simplifying the system and lowering the overall cost of this type of system, using multiple biometrics increases the amount of data that has to be processed and stored. This means the process of verifying identity is not only expensive, but also quite time consuming,” says Tarek Shahawy, technology solutions and sales consulting manager at Oracle Middle East. BT Research Centre’s Pawlewski says when organisations look at the actual biometric technology, there are three aspects that merit particular attention. These are algorithms used in matching a user to an identity, questions of biometric security and standards. “The algorithms that confirm the identity of users are improving all the time. However, IT departments need to ensure the template taken when people are enrolled onto the system is of the highest quality, so it can be easily matched. When it comes to security, we have all heard concerns about fingerprints being ‘spoofed.’ These are [situations where] either a plastic or gelatine fake is [accepted] as a real finger. Ways of countering these threats are in development, as part of the continual raising of the bar on levels of security,” he states. Private enterprises in the Middle East are cautious of the technology, however, the demand is high in government and financial sectors. IDC’s software programme manager in the Middle East and Africa, Heini Booysen, says as far as the Middle East is concerned, smart cards are becoming more prevalent. “When it comes to technologies such as the [biometrics], one of the biggest spenders in the region is the UAE government, with its national identity card scheme, e-gate and retina scans at the airport. Some regional banks have also opted for hardware authentication. However, the absolute size in terms of revenue remains low for now,” he explains. “The GCC governments are exploring the possibilities of using biometric-based security solutions. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), for example, wants to introduce an e-gate that will use all three main biometric identifiers: facial, iris and finger scans. The Gulf States have been quick to realise the importance of biometric identity assurance in border and transportation control,” he enthuses. ||**||

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