Face biometrics has become all the rage of late as the world tries to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, biometrics used for access and identification is not limited to face recognition, as fingerprint readers are the market leader by far and there are other modalities to choose from. In the age of COVID-19, however, touchless has become more important; are we about to see fingerprint biometrics losing its place at the top of the roost?
Participating in Hi-Tech Security Solutions Q&A; on biometrics during and after the COVID-19 period are:
• Dave Crawshay-Hall, chief technology officer of Fulcrum Biometrics Southern Africa.
• Walter Rautenbach, managing director of neaMetrics, the distributor of Suprema in southern Africa.
• Nicolas Garcia, sales director (Biometric Terminals), Middle East and Africa at IDEMIA.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Fingerprint biometrics has long been the standard and most used form of biometrics in public and private organisations; are we likely to see the world moving to other forms of touchless biometrics like facial or palm vein in the near future, or will fingerprints remain number one?
Crawshay-Hall: Firstly, it must be understood that research into the use of fingerprints as a form of identification began as far back as the 1880s and is still considered the gold standard when it comes to biometric technologies. Fingerprints will always be number one in law enforcement as they have huge criminal databases, and latent fingerprints found on crime scenes still provide an excellent method for identifying criminals. Government departments also still rely heavily on fingerprints for securing borders and identifying citizens, however facial and iris technologies are starting to be more prevalent in this area.
Face biometrics has always been the most convenient and non-intrusive biometric modality and has improved in leaps and bounds over the last decade, which has resulted in a huge surge in use of late. This growth has been helped by the push towards touchless biometrics, fuelled by the present pandemic. Many fingerprint device manufacturers are responding to the need for hygienic fingerprinting use by releasing touchless fingerprint scanners and UVC disinfecting hoods for use with traditional readers. Palm vein remains an excellent and highly accurate alternative, but is negatively affected by a relativity small uptake to date.
Rautenbach: Over the years, we have seen a steady increase in the demand for contactless biometric solutions, but it is only since being confronted with COVID-19 that the adoption rate thereof, especially facial recognition for us, has grown exponentially. Fingerprint biometrics has for decades been a preferred credential for user authentication, and this can be attributed to its proven ability to deliver fast, accurate and reliable results at a more affordable cost than some touchless biometric options.
Given the uncertainty of the current circumstances in which we find ourselves, it is difficult to predict the future of contact biometrics, but it is important to note that with proper hygiene processes in place there is little reason why fingerprint readers should be pushed aside completely. A compelling reason for fingerprints remaining foremost is the large-scale deployment and its prominence in government systems.
Garcia: There is a growing demand for contactless biometric technologies due to the current context, and for us at IDEMIA, the demand has been fairly balanced between facial recognition (VisionPass) and fingerprints (MorphoWave).
Identifying people when they are wearing a mask is more challenging. The mask hides the nose and cheeks and therefore prevents the technology from using many specific face data to perform facial recognition. Our R&D; teams are working on recalibrating and retraining our algorithms to take that into consideration and to optimise recognition of the upper part of the face around the eyes in particular. Our latest tests show very satisfactory results.
Alternatively, organisations can also use contactless fingerprint readers. While contactless is currently the centre of interest, we continue to receive requests for contact fingerprint terminals as clients have integrated our cleaning/sanitising recommendations with their readers. In the near future, fingerprints will probably still be preferred for the end user; it is something they are familiar with and there is therefore less resistance to adoption.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: While facial biometric systems have improved dramatically and are being deployed everywhere, are they as reliable as fingerprints? Also, are we able to trust facial biometrics given the usual arguments of distance, lighting, wearing glasses, caps and masks, etc.?
Crawshay-Hall: The improvement in facial biometric algorithms is nothing short of phenomenal, resulting in recent tests that rate some algorithms better at recognising faces then their human counterparts. While face algorithms are improving all of the time, they still have a way to go before they will completely replace fingerprints as the identification method of choice. The current epidemic has also driven the need for better performance when wearing a mask and we have seen a marked improvement in this area. Face recognition still faces challenges with certain ethnic groups (geographically dependent), lighting and facial coverings, which will no doubt be addressed over the coming years as this is the modality that most humans can relate to the best. It is important, however, to recognise that, like fingerprints, there is a stark difference between the best and worst performing algorithms.
Rautenbach: If all facial recognition readers were created equal, then yes, but we know that this is not the case. There are many facial recognition devices that do not live up to the reliability offered by fingerprint readers. Some of the cheaper devices experience problems with matching when lighting conditions are poor, with darker skin tones and some are susceptible to spoofing with artificial faces. Suprema’s new FaceStation F2 offers authentication accuracy with live face detection to prevent spoofing.
This feeds in to the question of trust, which is dependent on the features offered by the manufacturer. Facial recognition technology has made giant leaps in improvements to get where we have it today, where we see the technology using deep learning and AI, learning from the data presented to it every day and improving decision-making based on the data. This is great in terms of reliability because this means that the technology adapts and keeps improving as it is used.
Suprema facial recognition devices operate exceptionally in low- and bright-light conditions. FaceStation F2 offers walkthrough matching, meaning that you don’t even need to stop. It detects and matches your face as you are approaching it. As with fingerprints, proper facial enrolment goes a long way and it is preferable to perform this without a mask, hat, eye patches, etc.
Garcia: Facial recognition solutions have come a long way, but as with everything, there is no shortcut. When choosing a system, the proof is in the pudding, and systems should be tested to make sure they cater for all conditions (current and future). It is relatively easy today to propose a system that just matches a face; it is a bit more complicated to propose a system that has the ability to differentiate between a real face and a picture or a 3D mask, for instance. And for that matter, the technology has to work consistently and effectively under poor lighting conditions or overexposure in the sun.
VisionPass, our newest facial recognition device, uses 2D + 3D + infrared cameras, combined with AI-trained algorithms that make it effective in all the conditions mentioned; it is effective in full sun or total darkness, and resistant to photo presentation or 3D masks.
To mitigate privacy concerns, we also include an ‘intent area’ which is about 70 cm from the device so that passer-by are not caught by accident.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What other reliable options of biometrics are there today and where would they best be used? Or are we at an inflection point where the solutions above can do all that is required and other modalities are simply a matter of personal or corporate choice?
Crawshay-Hall: One of the most accurate and underutilised biometric modalities has to be iris, which has made massive advances over the last few year. Early deployments of this technology subjected the users to what was commonly referred to as the ‘Iris Dance’. This was because the user was constantly guided by the system to come closer and then to go further away, repeatedly, until the iris image could be captured. Advances in this area have all but eliminated this abnormality and deserve more recognition for the gains achieved. Iris technology is an extremely effective means of touchless identification during this time of mask wearing because it is completely unaffected by face coverings. This feature has long been recognised in the UAE, leading to a large uptake in the technology in that part of the world. The human iris does not change from early childhood throughout adult life.
Rautenbach: Each unique requirement involving biometrics will always have a modality that is best suited in the specific application and this will be for a different reason, based on the effectiveness or practicality of using that specific modality. For access control purposes, facial recognition and fingerprint biometrics are still the two main modalities out of all the options that are widely used and most reliable, although you will see that there are other modalities such as iris recognition that are also reliable.
Depending on what the requirement is and the installation location, each biometric modality fulfils the requirements in that case, which can be for numerous reasons. For example, in a hospital setting, similar to a laboratory, facial biometrics will be best suited compared to fingerprints due to the non-contact element of the solution. In many cases, the type of modality used will be a corporate choice of the end user and this is where it is very important to ensure that the partner of choice is experienced and understands how your requirements can best be fulfilled.
Although there are other touchless biometric options, such as palm, iris and even finger, we believe that the growth in facial accuracy is due to the availability of data to improve algorithms. There are extremely large datasets, from plain photos to videos, originating from the Internet or surveillance, which machine-learning algorithms learn from, constantly processing these sets and making current algorithms better. We therefore believe that this is why face recognition has seen a remarkable increase and will most likely have the edge in self-improvement over the years.
Garcia: At IDEMIA, we have a long tradition of delivering biometric technology solutions leveraging fingerprint, iris and facial recognition. We even handle some more unusual types of ‘soft’ biometrics such as tattoos (called soft because they can be removed or altered).
Although other options such as iris scan exist, we regularly assess what makes more sense. Currently, facial recognition and fingerprints remain the most adopted and popular choices for biometric secured access technology.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: While a biometric reader may be technically advanced, end users want a solution. Can your biometric products be easily integrated into complete access and identity solutions? Additionally, when it comes to cybersecurity, can your products be integrated into the full identity chain securely?
Crawshay-Hall: Our biometric readers are amongst the most advanced, with full capability to connect to any other devices and systems through a compressive API that allows the management platform to connect with any other systems to create a tightly integrated ecosystem. Mobile capabilities have become a requirement for most system deployments, and so are fully supported and have a large focus within our solution platform. While the use of third-party products is supported, all the requirements for most deployments can be catered for by our own products and solutions.
Rautenbach: Suprema always had a strong focus on integration and solutions, and this is achieved through various options of SDKs, APIs and even old-school type hardware integration. This is reflected in our sales where most sales are where solution providers have integrated with our hardware. Our focus, and a big differentiator, is our large software engineering team that assists these clients to get them up and running in the shortest possible time.
With this said, the expansion of Suprema’s BioStar 2 access and T&A; functionality has seen dramatic sales increases, especially since it is available through a browser interface as well as mobile apps. The fact that integration with BioStar 2 is possible through APIs means that those who want to take shortcuts, without risk, by using the BioStar 2 engine for data management and security, while having custom customer facing interfaces, can do so with ease.
On the other hand, we also do in-house integration into enterprise access control providers such as Gallagher, Avigilon, Isonas, Paxton, Arteco, NX-Witness and many more, meeting the need for solutions and providing more options for integrators and end users.
BioStar 2 is a web-based security platform which offers comprehensive features for access control, time and attendance management, video log maintenance and visitor management. BioStar 2 supports platform integration based on RESTful Web APIs and SDK-based hardware integration (BioStar 2 API, BioStar 2 Device SDK, and Suprema G-SDK).
Our products can also securely be integrated into the full identity chain. Suprema has enhanced cybersecurity measures in place to ensure that data is kept securely and also exchanged securely between the server, client and device. All personal data is stored safely on the server, device or even card, encrypted using AES-256, AES-128, DES/3DES based on the location. Server-to-client communication is protected by HTTPS which can use a trusted CA signed certificate. Between the server and device, all communications are encrypted using AES-256, but protection can be enhanced by using TLS 1.2. Serial communication through RS-485 is also encrypted using AES-128 under the requirement to secure all possible communication. These are all features that are built into the solution. No third-party software is used.
Garcia: Our technology is completely interoperable, modular and able to integrate with other devices. We have teamed up with all major global and regional access control manufacturers and these partnerships allow a multitude of different use cases, and benefit building/premise operators/owners in achieving goals such as compliance with health and safety regulations.
With that in mind, we have developed our in-house solution called MorphoManager, which is used for reader management and provides basic access control functionalities. MorphoManager can also be linked to advanced access control solutions to enable biometric capabilities when they are not already integrated. It comes in handy when upgrading to biometrics with a previously installed system.
Privacy is definitely an important issue the industry needs to address. Within the field of facial recognition solutions, IDEMIA has anticipated privacy concerns by setting up a self-regulation system with protective measures for end users:
• Individual biometric data like fingerprints or face images is not stored by IDEMIA. The biometric data is reduced and changed into biometric point characters, with their own template and biometric code. This, in turn, is secured before processing.
• Only the companies that install these devices have secure access to this data, pursuant to current regulations.
• At IDEMIA, we firmly believe that people need to know how their data is used, how long it is saved, and why. IDEMIA’s privacy-by-design solutions ensure that private data does not leak from government-authorised environments.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What products from your company do you think are going to make an impact in the market in 2021 (COVID willing)?
Crawshay-Hall: Our IDT line of biometric readers incorporate precision Multi-Spectral Imaging (MSI) fingerprint sensors, which read fingerprints sub-dermally, so they are entirely unaffected by dirty, damaged, excessively wet or dry, or aged fingers. They are also unaffected by direct sunlight and can read a fingerprint through a surgical glove.
Multi-modal iris/face devices that can be set up to favour the speed and ease of face recognition, resorting to iris if the face algorithm is not fully satisfied of a match, are an exciting addition to our range of products. Available in a modular manner, the IDT platform offers interoperability and ease of use, integrating the industry’s best performing cameras, sensors and algorithms. All IDT readers are offered in a rugged yet elegant design, with the industry’s required interfaces, enhanced security and convenience as well as other custom options. Technology leaders that make some of the most advanced security systems in the world partner with us.
IdentyManage simplifies security management, and by adding modular plugins can be expanded to provide a whole range of enterprise-wide solutions using the best-in-class access control and surveillance technology. Among its many features, the IdentyManage platform provides you with an integrated multi-biometric authentication platform, unified GUI for easy administration and control, multi-screen operations, real-time alerts and event handling, on-the-fly commands and continuous flow of the information. The IdentyManage mobile app provides you with the ability to control all aspects of physical security (access control) and surveillance inside one software interface.
By combining multiple technologies under one roof, we are able to increase the effectiveness of real-time monitoring by associating cameras to access control points to monitor the security of the facility or building. With top tier engineers accompanied by an international executive team, we are able to present an unmatched platform of next generation technology suites to our clients.
Rautenbach: Suprema has a few products that are sure to be a hit in 2021, such as the FaceStation F2, a multimodal terminal offering face, fingerprint, card and mobile access. F2 is IP65 rated, making it suitable for installation outdoors. It supports mask detection whereby access can be prevented should a mask not be detected when one is required for entry. It can also authenticate faces without the need to remove one’s mask. FaceStation F2 can optionally be fitted with the Suprema Thermal Camera for temperature screening.
Our FaceStation 2 and FaceLite are here to stay, however. They work like a bomb and also recently received a bump in the speed and capacity of identification due to algorithm improvements.
Suprema Mobile Access allows a person to authenticate at an access point by tapping their BLE/NFC-enabled mobile phone on the reader, taking away the need to issue physical smartcards, and provides a contactless option for contact biometric readers. Remote and online management of credentials is through the easy-to-use Suprema Airfob Pass app and the Airfob portal. This functionality is supported by various Suprema devices, however it is not limited to these because Airfob Patch (the world’s first RF card signal translator) can be applied (no wiring required) to any RF card reader (including third-party readers) to enable Suprema Mobile Access.
Over and above this, there are some new products that will be announced in the beginning of 2021, also focusing on touchless biometrics. This will be another breakthrough in effective visitor management and will further expand on some of the technologies mentioned above, and even add some more.
Garcia: Frictionless is the future of biometrics. IDEMIA sees strong demand for contactless biometric-powered access technology in the coming year in what will be the #newnormal.
We have been investing in frictionless solutions for over eight years. We believe they are the best way to answer the most essential customer expectations in access control as they are accurate, secure and fast, to enable smooth access into buildings for authorised people. On top of that, these solutions are user friendly and easy to manage and administer.
We have a broad offering in frictionless devices, including:
• Facial recognition with VisionPass and also contactless fingerprints with MorphoWave, which is unique in the market and field-proven with 10 000 terminals deployed worldwide. Hence both MorphoWave Compact and VisionPass will be ideal for building/premises owners/operators wanting to protect employees/visitors and their investments.
• Augmented Vision is IDEMIA’s new video analytics software solution, which can be plugged into existing CCTV systems to provide powerful real-time alerting capabilities for surveillance and access control, and offers extensive tools for analysis of recorded videos. In addition, Augmented Vision will be enriched with new real-time features to ensure a safe return to the office, such as physical distancing, mask detection and overcrowding alerts.
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