Biometric technology has been with us for many years, with South Africa initially leading the field in using fingerprint readers for identity authentication in the business world. The technology itself has come a long way and today we see less resistance to using biometrics and fewer arguments that the technology doesn’t work – but, of course, there are those who will always have an opinion.
We have also seen biometrics integrated into a number of different business applications and processes, resulting in more efficient authentication in fields as diverse as login onto your work computer through to time and attendance and so forth. We have also seen new modalities entering the field, such as voice and facial biometrics, among others. Of course, these modalities have also been around for a long time, but they have only recently advanced to the stage where they are viewed as reliable and trustworthy in different situations.
To find out more about the state of biometrics and for a glimpse into the near future of these technologies, we asked a few experts for their take on this thriving industry.
To start with, we asked what the current state of the industry and the technology is, including how the market has advanced from plain old fingerprint readers.
Deon Janse van Rensburg, Africa manager for Virdi says the advent of smartphones has opened a whole new world for intelligent edge devices, such as biometric terminals. “Our latest development is based on Android 4.0 and provides us with the ability to utilise the same type of quad core processor found in high-end smartphones with SSD memory modules. This allows us to develop multimodal biometric devices such as fingerprint and face recognition systems where the speed and accuracy of the device is not compromised.”
He says it also allows Virdi to use technologies on the edge that historically were the domain of IT server environments, such as 3D facial recognition. “By using 3D geometry with isometrics we can make it as fast as any fingerprint biometric system. Add to this the constant evolution of the algorithms that govern biometric systems and they become increasingly faster overall. Even iris / retina biometric systems, which historically were extremely slow and pedantic are speeding up. They will never match the speed of RFID technologies, however, as they are infinitely more complex.”
He adds that since Android is open source technology it will mean reasonable pricing for customers, although certain technologies will remain commercially unviable for the foreseeable future due to the pricing of peripheral items such as CCD/CMOS sensors.
The CEO of local biometrics manufacturer, iPulse Systems, Gary Chalmers, believes the biometrics world is on the cusp of major change. “We are obviously seeing the benefits of Moore’s Law with speed, performance and functionality increasing and price decreasing, but there has not been a 'wow' moment for the past two years.
“Integration, SDKs, reliability and interoperability have been the key focus for most companies these past 24 months, but I think that the big change coming is a combination of fingerprint and card (where the print is stored on the card and the system operates in a closed loop), and links to cloud-based authentication servers.
“I suspect that 2016 is going to be a defining year for the industry and that lots of new technologies and industry changing products will make their way to the forefront in the coming 18 months. This will herald some of the biggest changes our industry has ever seen.”
Walter Rautenbach, who heads up Suprema SA and neaMetrics, agrees that biometric technology is constantly improving, as can be seen in the increased implementations in industrial and mining applications, which were a sore point for biometric solutions in the past.
“Dramatic improvements in facial recognition algorithms have resulted in effective utilisation independent of skin colour; environmental impact is also becoming less of a headache through the application of infrared technology and sophisticated enrolment algorithms.”
And while new modalities are making headlines, the proof of a technology is measured in effective implementations. Rautenbach says there are some interesting technologies, such as the Nymi Band which is a wearable and uses the electric activity of your heart to uniquely identify you, are definitely opening people’s minds to different aspects of personal identification.
“Perhaps not as intriguing as a new modality, but the integration identity and wearables as a part of the IoT (the Internet of Things) will truly identify a person and provide secure physical and logical access in a machine-to-machine environment. Be it access to your laptop, opening your car or house, access to work or automated airline boarding; in the words of the platform director, ‘an amazing device where you walk around and the world just opens up for you’.
“IoT, a term so well used, is something we will be keeping a close eye on, especially in conjunction with The IDentity of Things – not just a unique ID, but a true identity.”
And in the realm of big data, biometrics is also playing a roll. ZKTeco’s Hendrik Combrinck says the market is seeing a big drive into technology that can handle big databases. “This is taking us back to the issues of cloud integration and more reliable 3G connections.”
It would be a mistake to take too much of a future view of biometric technology where gates open automatically and our cars recognise us long before we arrive at the door. Combrinck says the biggest uptake he is seeing for biometrics is in the access control market. “With biometrics getting less expensive, more end users are willing to use biometrics instead of the traditional card-based system.”
Rautenbach agrees, but adds that using biometrics as a method of truly identifying a person will continue to grow in all aspects of life. “The most evident growth is in applications where money is involved because it is easier to see a return on investment (ROI). This ranges from securing financial transactions, preventing time or physical theft, and even protecting tax payer’s money.”
Pinpointing a particular high-growth market segment is therefore difficult as all segments are realising the benefits of undisputed identification. This can be seen in the growth of biometrics in time management over the past few years and the big drive by financial and govern-ment organisations to implement biometric technologies. He believes this will continue as a steady trend. “Residential applications are also on the increase, not only for security or accuracy, but as a form of convenience.”
“In South Africa, the growth is mostly in the T&A market as employers look to cut costs from an ever increasing wage bill, but we are also seeing a significant uptake in access control,” echoes Janse van Rensburg. However, he adds that customised developments on biometrics for tasks such as vehicle and heavy machinery control seems to be on the uptake as well.
When looking at the global market, Janse van Rensburg says the concentration of R&D work is firmly rooted in two avenues.
The first is the mobile device market. This is being driven by manufacturers like Apple and Samsung for mobile payment applications. Biometrics in mobile devices still has a lot of development that needs to be done before it is anywhere as secure as the T&A or access control market, as it is very difficult to incorporate anti-spoofing technologies when there is limited space available in the actual mobile device. The second avenue is web-based applications for T&A and access control, and then pairing this with Google services like Maps (with GPS coordinates).
Although all areas of biometrics are growing, according to Chalmers. He says many markets are skipping straight over the ‘biometrics only’ solutions and opting for dual factor authentication. “I am also seeing the potential for explosive growth in the logical, or PC-based biometric access market, where industry and consumers alike have finally realised that the password is dead and new techniques are required for authenticating users.”
Faith or ROI
So while the going is good and the outlook even better, users can be forgiven for asking “so what”. Technology always promises the world and takes its own sweet time to deliver, and there is no reason to think that biometrics would be any different. Therefore, apart from having some fancy technology and bragging rights, what ROI does biometrics offer the business decision maker?
“ROI is a factor of planning and implementation,” says Chalmers. “Carefully planned installations with clearly understood goals always offer higher ROI than knee-jerk upgrades, but sadly, this is a factor pertaining to the channel as well as the end customer. The blind leading the blind often results in a perception of poor ROI, or the concept that it is more expensive without understanding the hidden costs of cheaper solutions.
“In general, any industry has the same problem; however, biometrics almost always provides an ROI when tied to clear deliverables.”
Janse van Rensburg says the benefits of biometrics are not only seen in ROI, but also monetary savings. “This is especially true for the T&A market and we have some blue chip companies that are reporting huge savings. This is true throughout the SADC region as we have smaller clients that save over a couple of thousand dollars per month. It may not sound like much, but in the constrained economy we now live in, this sometimes means the difference between going insolvent and staying afloat. Even small savings on trivial items such as replacing RFID cards means a significant reduction in operating costs and monthly savings.”
ROI is also measured from a security point of view as a biometric system is more easily managed than RFID or key/PIN based systems, simply because the user cannot borrow a fingerprint or face from someone else. “Add to this the web-based developments and managing the system has gone from having to have a dedicated person or persons monitoring the system to the capability of managing it anywhere one can find a Wi-Fi or 3G/4G signal, from any smart device.
To measure returns, one must also know the “before” situation prior to trying to measure the 'after'. Rautenbach says that if the impact of false identities is not measured effectively before the implementation of true identities, then it is difficult to measure ROI. “One of the easier systems to measure is T&A and payroll, but even that is not as easy as employees continue to want money – even if they have to pitch up and work to get it.
“It is also challenging to measure internal theft if it does not happen anymore as a result of anti-passback that deters fraudsters who know their movement through the facility can be tracked. Many companies will also wait until things go wrong until implementing preventative measures, skewing the accuracy of true ROI.
In African terms, Rautenbach says the rate of crime is a motivator for companies and individuals to invest in the technology with certainty that the right technology will deliver. In contrast to this, companies still waste money on implementing sub-standard technology where ‘rip and replace’ is the only solution and results in a low overall ROI.
Skills match the service
A benefit of the broader acceptance and rollout of biometrics is that there are more skills available to handle the technology as well as the integration requirements of companies. Rautenbach says there is definitely an improvement in skills for developing systems with biometrics.
“This is as a result of both the general increased exposure to biometric-enabled systems as well as manufacturers realising that easy interfaces facilitate in delivering solutions faster and therefore increase brand name and sales. This has, however, opened the door to biometric cowboys. It is important to realise that biometric identification on its own has no value and developers need to have a clear vision of how it will benefit the actual application and the customer.”
Combrinck agrees, noting that as manufacturers’ SDKs (software development kits) and APIs (application programming interfaces) become more comprehensive, the skills needed for integration work are becoming less involved than in the past.
“Integration remains the holy grail, with many larger players stubbornly resisting proper integration tools and trying to control the market through licensed software and clunky interfaces,” says Chalmers. This state of affairs is a benefit to smaller companies. He says iPulse has built its entire business on a fundamental principle that integration is a key driver of success in today’s world and as a result is seeing significant growth. “And more importantly, ‘stickiness’ from partners who have realised these benefits.”
The issue with skills in the biometrics world, according to Janse van Rensburg, is that there are so many technologies in play. “In fingerprint biometrics alone there are three levels of scanning with four different scanning technologies, and some of those technologies have certain patents on them and can only be used by certain vendors. Let’s not even start getting into facial recognition or iris/retina scanning and recognition.”
He adds that vendors are however cognisant that their products are not a one stop shop solution and the need is there to integrate into other products to provide the customer with a full and complete solution. “By using a standardised database set i.e. SQL or SQL Express and driving the data with ODBC drivers, it makes it easy to extract data from the database into third-party products. Add to this a read / write capability and two-way communication between different products becomes a reality.”
The security of biometric security
No technical discussion involving the reading and storing of personal information today would be complete without raising the issue of security. If some of the largest banks in the world can be hacked with ease (or at least it seems to be easy), how safe is your average user’s biometric information once extracted and linked to a database with other personal information?
Chalmers takes a practical approach to the issue. He believes most biometric systems are less prone to hacking than other systems as the amount of data stored about the individual is normally quite small. “Also, most professional companies do not keep a copy of the actual fingerprint image, but rather of the minutiae, which are in no way able to be reconstructed into a person’s fingerprint.
“Therefore, hacking into a typical biometric database will probably yield the individual’s first name, surname, department, employee number and minutiae, but this is a rather useless haul for any professional or self respecting hacker.”
“Biometric data is normally protected by the various manufacturers’ algorithms that define a biometric template,” confirms Combrinck. “This ensures that a biometric template cannot be used to create a physical image again of the users face, fingerprint or vein.”
Janse van Rensburg agrees that the actual fingerprint is not at risk and recommends using standards to secure data. “ISO 27001 is a good standard to follow. The way Virdi extracts the minutiae points and then encrypts the template in an AES standard and implements AES encryption between the device and software exceeds the ISO standard. It also leaves our templates virtually immune to reverse engineering attempts.”
Most biometric applications we see in daily use do not store the actual image of the fingerprint and are therefore pretty secure. Even if the fingerprint (or any modality) template is stolen, converting it back into an image is extremely difficult and costly. However, Rautenbach warns that systems that store the image itself do put users at risk, but he notes that developers need to manage these risks, irrespective of the potential usability of the stolen data.
“Just because a system uses biometrics does not mean the data is protected from software villains with too much time on hand and developers should therefore use additional security methods such as encryption, data segmentation and PKI technologies to protect personal information.”
Having talked about the technology, Hi-Tech Security Solutions also asked the interviewees what was new from their companies in terms of products. Below is a short overview of some of the technologies these companies have released of late.
Most of iPulse’s new products are around cloud-based technologies such as BIOVAULT, and the introduction of NFC and Bluetooth readers into its devices, which will allow mobile phones to replace smartcards as identifiers for users. This emerging trend is going to be the biggest change to the security industry since its inception and should begin to see major uptake as part of the innovation curve Chalmers is expecting in the next 18 months.
Suprema continuously brings out new hardware platforms. 2015 has seen the release of the BioStar 2 platform which offers cloud and mobile functionality with extended data protection and open platform interfaces that allow developers to customise and integrate with its software or hardware with flexibility and speed.
We have also seen the release of BioStation 2 which can manage the population of Miami on a single device, tripling capacity as well as matching and communication speeds. Rautenbach is looking forward to at least one new device over the next 12 months, which will once again offer greater flexibility to users and developers alike.
Our current target for integrations with leading VMS and access control platforms is currently for a minimum of 10, and we are also planning the release of several BioStar 2 add-ons, mobile identity interfaces and exposing the opportunities that the Internet and Identity of Things can deliver.
The FMD10 is a cost effective standalone solution which uses Bluetooth to communicate to an Android-based smartphone or tablet. The smartphone or tablet then acts as the server to manage the device. This terminal can also be used with the company’s 4-door controller or 8-zone alarm system for an SMME-type access control solution with biometrics.
The Bioseal-V uses the on-board power of an OTG capable Android smartphone to create a cost effective mobile fingerprint scanning device which can be used for T&A and at mustering points in line with the OHS Act. By using the on-board camera, the device takes a snapshot of whoever is transacting and adds it to the transaction information. Using the location services of the smartphone we are also able to add the exact coordinates to the transaction. The device communicates to our software and in the transaction log files the user can click on the GPS coordinates and it opens up a Google map which pinpoints the exact location of where the transaction occurs. As long as there is 3G/4G signal available the Bioseal-V will communicate real-time with the command and control software
The AC7000 is an Android-based multimodal biometric device that uses our fingerprint scanning technology as well as facial recognition. Building on the NEC algorithm and by incorporating 3D geometry and isometrics, we have designed a device that can do facial recognition (1:1000 faces) in under a second. We have also incorporated the newest multi-technology card reader that can read / write to both 125 kHz and 13.56 MHz cards. With the processing power and memory capabilities at our disposal we are able to provide 25 different authentication methods and cater to a very large database of users
We have released the next version of our UNIS command and control software. The software is based on the Windows 10 'point-click-drag-drop' principle and incorporates features such as Duress Finger, decentralised enrolment on the AC7000, DDNS, Blacklist Users and complete management of the MCP-040 door controller. This incorporates management of the on-board 8-zone intrusion alarm system. What is significant is that it can now use Microsoft SQL and SQL Express 2014, which previously we were not able to do due to stability issues within the database programs and the Microsoft operating system.
Lastly UNIS Web has become available. This is our cloud-based or SaaS solution for clients with large geographical footprints – or who do not want to spend Capex on IT infrastructure. It has a complete look and feel change from our UNIS software, although the engine is based on the same architecture. The customer can host the software, have an ISP host it for them or can use it as a SaaS system from Virdi partner Trac-Tech, who will host and maintain the software on the client’s behalf.
ZKTeco has launched a multi-biometric device this year that can read and combine the templates of the fingerprint and vein of the user’s finger. We will also be launching our new SilkID fingerprint sensors this year that will have a much faster recognition speed and better performance with dry, wet and rough fingerprints. This sensor will also have a level fake finger detection built in as well.
For more information contact:
ZKTeco (SA), +27 (0)12 259 1047, firstname.lastname@example.org
A discussion in biometrics would be lacking without input from Morpho. Hi-Tech Security Solutions therefore asked Morpho’s Andrina Diedericks to comment on the issues raised. Her comments are presented in point form below.
- Easing migration with IT is another major trend in biometrics and access control. With the dominance of cloud storage, a growing trend toward enterprise access control, the adoption of interoperability standards and a changing relationship with IT departments, access control is keeping pace with its physical security industry counterparts in its ability to adapt to consumer market trends.
- Concerns over data integrity and security among mobile users, the ever increasing use of smartphones to complete banking transactions, and the move towards mobile cloud computing have all contributed towards smartphones now emerging as the new growth path for fingerprint biometrics. In a space of less than a year the integration of biometrics into smart phones has gone from being a trend to the norm.
- In terms of impact on the market, we are going to see a significant move towards market polarisation. In other words, the two ends of the market that will see significant growth are entry-level products and high-end products. Those players in the middle market will see a decrease in sales as they struggle to differentiate themselves from the premium offerings and the more basic models.
- Personal data is secured at several levels with Morpho. Firstly, no picture is kept on any reader and we only keep a computer generated template from which the original picture cannot be reconstituted. Furthermore, communication between the readers and the enrolment station can be encrypted.
- Morpho has recently launched a number of new products which include the MorphoTablet, and the MorphoWave. The company has also launched the new 3D Face reader which uses facial recognition for identification.
- MorphoWave is the world’s first biometric access solution capturing and matching four fingerprints with a single hand movement. It implements a patented, truly contactless technology that not only acquires extremely accurate fingerprint data but also overcomes the challenges of wet/dry fingers and latent prints pose to conventional scanning systems. The dynamic, touchless acquisition capability provided by MorphoWave allows users to remain “on the move” when passing through a control point, making it ideal for securing high traffic areas.
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