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Issue Date: May 2001 (es)

Biometrics goes from science fiction to reality

May 2001

Some biometrics technology seems so far-fetched it belongs in a science fiction movie, but the technology is starting to catch on fast and many companies are using it to protect their computer networks or websites.
Rhys Taylor, Marketing Director of Pretoria-based PreWorx, says that as mobile commerce and e-commerce continue to grow, so companies are seeking enhanced security in their applications. This is where biometrics plays a role.
Rhys Taylor
Rhys Taylor
Biometrics is a term which describes automated methods of establishing someone's identity by checking their unique physiological or behavioural characteristics. A distinction is made between recognition - a database search for a match - and authentication, where the user first gives a name or PIN to identify himself. There are eight major categories of biometrics currently in use or development: face scan, finger scan, iris scan, hand scan, keystroke dynamics, retina scan, signature scan and voice scan.
"All eight have their pros and cons, but finger scanning is the most popular," Taylor says.
Major banks, such as Barclays in the UK, are evaluating the technology before incorporating it into ATMs or websites.
Taylor refers to a recently released report from US-based research firm Mentis Corp which provides an analysis of the trends in biometrics usage within financial services in the US, and which states that this market sector will increase its investment in biometrics technology.
According to the report, estimated usage of biometrics is predicted to increase from 8550 devices in 1996 to more than 50 000 this year, across all industries. "While financial services are not as active in their acquisition of biometrics technology as some other industries, devices are currently being employed for four major applications: physical access control; electronic access control; check, credit card, and teller fraud; and automated teller machine (ATM) fraud.
"The incorporation of biometrics for these applications increases the accuracy of user identification, thus reducing losses incurred from unauthorised access and use. The financial community is realising the benefits the application of biometrics can offer," the report states.
Stumbling blocks to worldwide adoption
Taylor says there has been speculation within the financial sector in the US that biometrics will inevitably replace traditional identification methods, such as passwords and personal identification numbers. Some US banks are also considering the technology to authorise wire transfers and identify customers. "Besides system access, biometrics are used internally to restrict physical access, for instance, to vaults in which computer records are stored. One key area of system access is corporate cash management."
Taylor points out, however, that many barriers exist to widespread usage of biometrics, such as consumer reluctance, questionable accuracy, high costs, and opposition by various groups (religious and political). One of the stumbling blocks to worldwide adoption of biometrics is the ease with which some existing technologies can be defeated. That said, Taylor believes that as the technology advances and prices drop, biometrics will become more feasible for the financial services industry. "When biometrics is pre-packaged with hardware like PCs and cellphones the technology will take off at a greater rate, particularly in the mass market. It will become easier for end-users to adopt and to accept," he adds.
For details contact Rhys Taylor of PreWorx on tel: (012) 804 0080 or e-mail:
* Note: PreWorx was formerly Diamond Network Technology (DNT). The company, a member of the JSE Securities Exchange-listed Mustek group of companies, has created applications centred on security and antivirus, operating system-less browsers, desktop management and self-healing computers.

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