Japanese banks opt for vein-recognition security system

Fujitsu Ltd. has commercialized a biometric security system based on vein pattern-recognition technology. The company has received orders from two Japanese banks, one of which is already using the technology.

The system works by shining a near-infrared light on a palm placed about four centimeters above a scanner. The scanner takes a snapshot of the palm. The vein patterns illuminated under the skin appear as dark patterns, and it is this information that becomes the basis for security applications. The information can then be loaded into a server or put into an integrated circuit embedded in a cash card and used at an automatic teller machine (ATM ), said Kazuaki Ishida, a member of the company’s financial marketing department, in an interview on Friday.

Users who register their identities need to have three snapshots taken of their palm, with each scan taking one to two seconds. To identify themselves to an ATM, card carriers place their wrist on a cradle above a scanner, a small box bolted next to the machine’s input screen connected to the ATM by Universal Serial Bus (USB).

The snapshot data is compared to the data in the card. In a demonstration at the Future Creation Fair in Tokyo, Friday, withdrawing cash took about three to four seconds, about the same time as inserting the card and punching in a personal identification number (PIN).

“It’s quite easy for criminals to watch people input their numbers, steal their cards, and withdraw money. Also the number of fake cards is increasing. This system is much more secure,” Ishida said.

Ishida said the system is a comfortable compromise between high security and ease of use for customers. While iris recognition technology is probably more secure than vein pattern identification, few ordinary bank customers want a retinal scan each time they withdrew money, he said. Fingerprint scanners are small and convenient, but their use by hundreds of people raises hygiene issues.

“We found that women in particular didn’t like the idea of it,” he said.

Fujitsu has won two contracts for the system to date.

The first, in June 2004, was with Suruga Bank Ltd., which has already installed a version of the system in 65 of its branches. Suruga, a regional Japanese bank, uses the system for over-the-counter transactions.

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., one of Japan’s biggest banks, will install the ATM version of the system in 250 of its branches from October, according to Chie Matsumura,a member of Fujitsu’s financial marketing department, in an interview on Friday. Each branch gets one of the new ATMs.

Matsumura said several more banks had expressed interest in adopting the system.

“We can’t say who, but we are talking to several (Japanese) megabanks,” she said.

Suruga’s version stores customer biometric data on a server. With the Tokyo-Mitsubishi ATM card version, customer data is only stored on the cash card.

“Tokyo-Mitsubishi Bank is very sensitive about customer personal data leaks,” said Matsumura.

Fujitsu is beginning to promote the system overseas through the company’s affiliates and is looking to develop other applications, Matsumura said. One example might be car keys, he said.

Fujitsu first demonstrated its vein-pattern reading technology in 2002 when it showed a computer mouse prototype. Users put their palm on the mouse to log into the PC.

“The new system works much better. The old mouse didn’t work very well,” Matsumura said.

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