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How Fingerprint Scanners Work

Biometrics consists of automated methods of recognizing a person based on unique physical characteristic. Each type of biometric system, while different in application, contains at least one similarity: The biometric must be based upon a distinguishable human attribute such as a person's fingerprint, iris, voice pattern or even facial pattern.

Today fingerprint devices are by far the most popular form of biometric security used, with a variety of systems on the market intended for general and mass market usage. Long gone are the huge bulky fingerprint scanners; now a fingerprint scanning device can be small enough to be incorporated into a laptop for security.

A fingerprint is made up of a pattern of ridges and furrows as well as characteristics that occur at Minutiae points (ridge bifurcation or a ridge ending). [See Diagram Below]. Fingerprint scanning essentially provides an identification of a person based on the acquisition and recognition of those unique patterns and ridges in a fingerprint.

[Fingerprint Diagram Source]

The actual fingerprint identification process will change slightly between products and systems. The basis of identification, however, is nearly the same. Standard systems are comprised of a sensor for scanning a fingerprint and a processor which stores the fingerprint database and software which compares and matches the fingerprint to the predefined database. Within the database, a fingerprint is usually matched to a reference number, or PIN number which is then matched to a person.s name or account. In instances of security the match is generally used to allow or disallow access, but today this can also be used for something as simple as a time clock or payroll access.

In large government organizations and corporations, biometrics plays a huge role in employee identification and security. Additionally some data centers have jumped on the bandwagon and have implemented biometric scanners to enhances remote access and management by adding another layer of network security for system administrators. Unfortunately the cost of implementing fingerprint and other biometric security scanning in data centers is still quite expensive, and many centers still rely on ID badges while waiting until biometric technology becomes a little more pocket-book friendly.

Today companies have realized that fingerprint scanning is an effective means of security. While the cost of implementing biometric scanners in larger organizations and data centers is still quite costly, we did find several fingerprint scanning devices which would fit into the budget of many small offices and home users. These home and small office products are designed to protect your hard drive, notebook or even to remove the need for users to remember multiple passwords.

Micro Solutions LockBox ($199.99 for the 80GB LockBox)
This biometric fingerprint provides security access to the hard drive. A built-in sensor scans finger prints of authorized users (up to 8) to unlock the drive for use. Use as a single hard drive, or partition it into a maximum of 7 logical private drives. Users can be assigned access to ALL or only SELECT drive partitions.

IBM's T42 Notebook ($1499.99 & up)
Select T42 models combine the IBM Integrated Fingerprint Reader and the IBM Embedded Security Subsystem. The Integrated Fingerprint Reader is built conveniently into the palm rest area of your notebook, making your passwords available at your finger tip. Having to remember and enter passwords is eliminated with a swipe of your finger, and security software is preloaded for an integrated solution out of the box.

Microsoft Fingerprint Reader ($49.99)
Microsoft.s Fingerprint Reader is designed to remove the hassles of remembering passwords. Instead of typing in a username and password on Web sites and Windows logon screens, you scan your fingerprint and software handles the translation and allows access.

Related Links

Biometrics Resource
An excellent resource with information on biometrics technology, applications, case studies, and more. News Article
"Most data center managers today cannot justify the cost and complexity of installing and maintaining biometric authentication tools. They rely on other means to control access to data centers, like ID badges and physical security checkpoints."

Small Business Computing - Biometrics Slow To Catch On In Networks  
BioPay makes fingerprint security systems for retailers that cash checks. Some 200 merchants use the Herndon, Va., company's biometrics fingerprint scanners to verify a check casher's identity in an attempt to reduce fraud.

Vangie 'Aurora' Beal
Last updated: November 18, 2004

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