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March 20, 2008

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Whitepaper: Multi-residential access management – The move to digital

Truth is the key: Addressing criticism of biometrics

Recent press coverage of biometric technology in the wake of the loss of 25 million HMRC records has been negative to say the least.

A US academic paper proving that it is possible to partially recreate a fingerprint from unencrypted data has been quoted and more recently six leading academics have written to a Parliamentary committee to express their dismay at the way biometrics has been proposed as a means to secure data.

The national biometric ID programme is back in the spotlight with few supporters. And in the weeks preceding the HMRC data loss, a small group of concerned parents in London suggested “perverts will use (biometric) technology to track your kids”, a Shadow Minister branded the biometrics industry “worse than ID thieves”, and anti-biometrics websites run by unqualified campaigners are quoted verbatim in the national press with no attempt to seek comment from industry experts.

How is the UK biometrics industry to respond to ill-informed comment and wild speculation? The answer is simple: Education.

Biometrics is a fast moving, emerging technology. The challenge we faced ten years ago as biometrics began to come to market was again one of education. But opinion was more benign than it is today. The media and public were fascinated by the possibilities offered by biometrics, and our task was to explain how the science worked then speculate on possible applications.

Today, broadly speaking, most people know what biometrics is and have an idea how it works. But biometric technology, even a year ago, was not so advanced as it is today, and many media commentators are quoting facts that were relevant five years ago.

Today biometric readers are capable of returning error rates that will beat swipe cards or prox fobs hands down. The oft quoted myth that it is possible to cut off someone’s finger and use the dead finger as a key, is just that. Myth. Sub-dermal, multispectral imaging scans the fingerprint surface and the sub-dermal layers. It can tell if blood is pumping through the finger and if not, it will reject the scan.

Another myth is the ‘spoof’ fingerprint recreated from a latent print or the authorised user’s own fingerprint. UK Biometrics has tested the J Series sub-dermal reader with over 20,000 spoof fingerprints ranging from the crude to the highly sophisticated. Not one has come close to fooling the scanner. We will continue to test spoof fingerprints and rigorously test the security of our products to ensure the myth of a gifted hacker recreating ID from stolen biometric data remains a myth. The irony for the biometrics industry in the face of what sometimes appears to be a media onslaught, is the fact that the public, industry, Government and the military are voting with their feet.

UK Biometrics Ltd currently has ten regional offices across the UK and a further eighteen are planned over the coming eighteen months. Biometric technology is protecting nurseries, schools, hospitals, the workplace, data and homes with more people signing up every day.

Users, from school children and homeowners to industry bosses universally praise biometrics for its ease of use and the total security it provides.

In the face of this commercial success, it would be easy enough to simply ignore the media and the public debate. But a bunker mentality will not serve our industry in the long term.

It is not pleasant to arrive at work and find the industry you represent branded as helping perverts, but the answer is education and demonstration.

The thousands of users of biometric technology throughout the UK differ from ill informed pundits in one vital respect: Adopters of biometric technology have been educated about its benefits and they have had the opportunity to ask searching questions face to face with an expert.

As biometrics becomes ever more familiar technology, this group of educated users will grow. It is the duty of all of us in the biometrics industry to help speed and facilitate that process by engaging in the public debate, presenting the facts and providing honest answers.

Tackling the weak link at the doorway

With large companies becoming more security conscious and opting for biometrics systems in place of traditional access control, there is still a flaw in the system where the door can be held open once a valid user has gained access. Here, Alex Wilkins, of Integrated Designs Limited, describes how the tailgating problem was solved at Gemplus, a digital security provider …

Regardless of the access control system installed, once the door is open there is no way of stopping tailgating,

Gemplus, due to the nature of their organisation, had a need for a high level of security at key access points.

They found that their existing access control system was vulnerable to unauthorised entry once a door was open.

Staff were holding the doors open for each other and the access control system was rendered useless.

They needed to find a way of ensuring that everyone who went through an access controlled door was made to present their access card or an alarm would be raised.

The security review found that, like most access systems, theirs had major problems with tailgating, when an authorised user is followed through an open doorway by an unauthorised person.

Good manners, bad security

Tailgating is very easy to do. We have always been told that it is good manners to hold doors open for other people and, more often than not, good manners win over the good security practice of closing the door firmly behind you to stop someone else coming in.

It is very easy to jam your foot in a closing door and follow through 30 seconds later after the authorised person has left. Many people don’t check to see if the door is secured behind them. Intruders may therefore be willingly let in to a secure area and the access control system is beaten.

Infra-red field

Gemplus brought on board Integrated Design Ltd to help increase the level of security at these key doors by integrating Fastlane Door Detective tailgate detection devices with the existing access control system.

The tailgate detection devices increased the level of security by creating an infra-red field across the doorway to monitor the passage of every individual passing through, only alerting the security staff to the presence of unauthorised staff.

This ensures that each individual who passes through a door must present their access card. Following the installation, unauthorised entrants are highlighted as alarm events.

They are monitored by a CCTV camera and, when connected to a DVR, are recorded for security to review and take the appropriate action.

Assessing the risk

The pre-alarm feature on the DVR allows the guards to see up to ten seconds before the alarm event to help them asses the risk.

Security staff can easily monitor the doors remotely and take the appropriate action in the event of unauthorised access.

They can see which doorway this has occurred on and who is responsible for it.

This monitoring has also encouraged staff to use the access control system properly and present their card when they pass through any controlled doorway – as opposed to tailgating through.

The result is that the security system is now operating more effectively and Gemplus says that having the tailgate detection device is like having a guard on the door 24/7.

Geoff Flowers, Corporate Security, Gemplus, says, “Door Detective is a great supplement to our access control system. It is being used in secure areas where we have to ensure only authorised staff have access, and the access control system by itself may not have been enough.”

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