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Biometrics: What, where and why

Mary Brandel | March 11, 2010
Biometrics are slowly gaining acceptance. Here are the most common forms and uses of biometrics and forces shaping the market

FRAMINGHAM, 10 MARCH 2010 - Biometrics encompasses a variety of methods for ensuring identity based on physical or behavioral traits. Conventional identifying traits include fingerprints, face topology, iris structure, hand geometry, vein structure, voice, signature and keystroke recognition. Emerging technologies analyze characteristics such as gait, odor, and ear shape. Rather than being used in isolation, biometrics systems are increasingly becoming multimodal, an approach that serves both to increase security and overcome failure-to-enroll problems.

In order for the systems to work, users first have to be enrolled and their information must be recorded in a database. From there, they use either a verification or identification approach. With verification, the system confirms that a person is who he claims to be, via a one-to-one matching model. Identification, on the other hand, is more complex. It uses a one-to-N approach, matching the person's biometric data to a list of users in the database.

Biometrics offers several advantages over identification cards and passwords or PINs, namely the requirement that the person being identified is physically present and the elimination of the need to remember codes or tokens. Dan Miller, senior analyst and founder of Opus Research in San Francisco, distills the benefits of biometrics: Other systems rely on something you know or have, whereas biometrics works off something you are.

Key Applications of Biometrics

There are several applications for which biometrics is useful, according to Maxine Most, principal at Acuity Market Intelligence in Louisville, Colo., and she projects that they'll grow at varied rates between 2009 and 2017:

* Physical Access: Facility and secure-area access, time-and-attendance monitoring. Growth: Flat, starting at 13 percent of total market revenues and ending at 14 percent.

* Logical Access: PC, networks, mobile devices, kiosks, accounts. Growth: From 21 percent to 31 percent of total market revenues.

* Identity Services: Background checks, enrollment, credentialing, document issuance. Growth: Decline from 65 percent to 47 percent of total market revenues.

* Surveillance and Monitoring: Time and attendance, watchlists. Growth: From less than 1 percent to nearly 8 percent of total market revenue.

Biometric Market Drivers

In the public sector, worldwide government mandates for integrated border management systems are driving adoption of biometrics for electronic identification programs, Most says. In the commercial market, she says, the main drivers will be the evolution of mobile phones equipped with near-field communications, which enable information sharing, service initiation and payment and ticketing capabilities.

"This will be a problem crying out for biometrics," she says, "not only to lock the devices, but also to authenticate high-risk or high-value transactions." Tens of millions of mobile devices are already shipping with embedded biometrics, she points out. Similarly, another driver may be the healthcare industry, which may look to biometrically protect electronic health records, she says.

 

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