Biometrics used to secure the fort

Though security has always been an issue in IT, it was the tragic events of Sept. 11 that brought it to the forefront of public attention.

At a recent Communications and Information Technologies Ontario (CITO) talk in Toronto on security for small and medium size enterprises, a group of Canadian companies discussed how biometric technology can be used to allay security concerns in this increasingly fragile world.

One of the biggest areas of concern is the relative ease with which intruders can gain access to a building. The traditional methods used by companies to control access are easily circumvented. Swipe cards can be lost or stolen, PIN numbers inadvertently disclosed and regardless, a crafty individual can always walk in behind a legitimate entrant and claim to be “Bob, the new guy in accounting.”

The saving grace is our own body. Though we may often feel like chattel, we are unique. Even identical twins have distinct finger prints.

Scanners are being refined to identify us by our irises, voice, finger prints and even such unusual characteristics as our body odour, ear lobes and finger nail patterns.

Many of the solutions available today are using intelligent applications of existing technology.

Facial recognition

One of the most common ways we get into secure areas is using our face. But picture identification is fallible since many individuals resemble others and the quality of the photograph use on IDs is often marginal.

“You let [a person] in because you’ve seen them before, not because you are matching their face to a picture,” said Sal Khan, CEO of VisionSphere Technologies in Ottawa.

VisionSphere is working in the area of facial recognition software. Though admittedly not as foolproof as DNA or fingerprint scanning, facial recognition has some distinct advantages. First and foremost, it is the least intrusive. There a few people walking on the planet today who have never had their photograph taken.

Another advantage is that there are already 1.5 billion facial images stored in databases around the world – think driver’s licences or health cards.

Using VisionSphere technology the data is stored as a numeric facial template and then encrypted. When a person enters the controlled area, a camera scans their face and compares it against the stored enrolment photographs. When a match is found, access it gained. To speed up the process the individual can carry a swipe cars so only their image is pulled from the database.

And what if someone holds up a photograph, would the software not be fooled? “No…we make you blink,” Khan said.

The FaceCam can be integrated with most security access technology. Companies can use it to control physical access to secure areas or even to keep track of employees’ hours.


Like scans which involve the eyes (which are less likely to be accepted due to perceived physical risks), fingerprints also have an uphill battle. Socially many people regard having their fingerprint taken as somehow related to criminal activity. But prints do have a distinct advantage. They are, for all case and purposes, unique.

Unfortunately identifying a person from his or her fingerprint is not an exact science. There are rates of error.

But for purpose of physical access their use is valid and quick. Larry Nelms, vice-president marketing and business development with Kojon Biometrics Inc. in Ottawa, said systems exist which can compare one print against 10 million others in storage and find the correct match 95 per cent of the time within 15 minutes. No company would have that many prints in its database, so matching to employee records would be much faster.

“The principles have been known and talked about for a long time…the hold up has been costly or unreliable technology,” he said.

Kojon’s solution has gotten the error rate down to 0.01 per cent and can be run on PCs, which offer the necessary power and storage at a reasonable price, Nelms said.

The consensus is that by combining some form of biometric security with a physical access card or pass code, the likelihood a person could successfully penetrate a secure area would be drastically reduced.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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