Online fingerprint verification

May 2010 Access Control & Identity Management

Nick van der Merwe expounds on the benefits of fingerprint biometrics.

The recent announcement by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to allow real-time identity verification has been met with mixed reactions.

This announcement came after months of successfully using fingerprint biometrics at the branch offices of the DHA for ID book and passport applications, as well as the successful completion of a pilot involving various banks.

According to Dr Nick van der Merwe, director of Ideco Technologies and chairman of SABS SC71Q biometrics standards workgroup, biometric verification is the only way to definitively confirm the identity of a person.

“The DHA has been using fingerprint biometrics since the 1950s and since the mid-nineties thousands of South African companies use these systems every day. In fact more than 2 million employees in the country use their fingerprints on a daily basis to access their offices and clock for work, and we have not experienced a single case of compromised privacy, stolen biometric identity or fraudulent use of biometric identity in cases where our solutions have been used. Ideco also operates the SAPS criminal record verification system for employee background screening, using a system based on fingerprints.”

Biometrics provides a much higher form of security than documents like the DHA’s green ID book. These books are forged regularly by swapping photos, printing whole fraudulent books or even getting one fraudulently issued by corrupt officials. Such fraudulent ID books are often used to open bank accounts, obtain credit, etc at a huge cost to the economy each year.

The basic characteristics of fingers do not change over time, and each person’s fingerprints are unique. What makes a fingerprint unique is not necessarily the pattern of ridges on the fingerprint image, but all the points where ridges start, stop or split. Biometric readers have the ability to identify these points (called minutia) and store them as a reference (called a template). Once this is done, the image is deleted and it is physically impossible to recreate the original image – the fingerprint – from these points. What can be done, however, is to match another set of points to this reference set, making it possible to verify the identity of the customer. Unlike other authentication mechanisms, biometrics cannot easily be lost, stolen or forgotten, and also cannot easily be shared.

“This has enormous benefits to all legitimate customers of the banks as identity fraud will be stopped in its tracks,” Van der Merwe continues. “It would be impossible for fraudsters to hijack your identity and trade with your bank account. For high-risk situations, there are readers that offer fake finger detection, so using a fake finger or dead finger will be useless as these readers can detect if the finger is not real.”

Although a person’s fingerprint template is regarded as personal information, there is little privacy risk in using it, assuming that due care is taken in the secure storage, transmission and usage of that template. The Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Act makes specific provision for an advanced electronic signature, and biometric authentication will play an integral part in this process. In terms of privacy, the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Bill provides a legal framework for the protection and use of private information. In terms of information security the relationship works both ways – on the one hand biometrics is a secure and accurate authentication mechanism – and conversely tools such as encryption are used to secure the biometric data. Within the standards environment specific attention has been paid to the security aspects of identity management and privacy, including biometrics, specifically in the work done by Working Group 5 of ISO/IEC JTC1 SC27.

“You can, however, learn considerably more about an individual’s private life from their credit card details and social networking sites such as Facebook than you can from a fingerprint template,” says Van der Merwe. Once fingerprint verification is fully integrated into the banking system, in credit card machines, ATMs and even as part of online banking using personal biometric devices, no one else can have access to your account.

For more information contact Ideco, +27 (0)11 745 5600,,


Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Heightening physical security at military base
Turnstar Systems Access Control & Identity Management Government and Parastatal (Industry) Products
Turnstar Systems recently installed two 3-metre Velocity Raptor traffic spikes at the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Randfontein military base on Gauteng’s West Rand.

Zero Trust to dominate 2023
Cyber Security Access Control & Identity Management
Traditional ways of safeguarding data are no longer sufficient in 2023. Zero Trust has emerged as a more proactive way for businesses to keep their systems, data, and networks protected against compromise.

Turnstar opens an office in the UK
Turnstar Systems News Access Control & Identity Management
Turnstar Systems recently established an office in the Greater Manchester borough in the North East of England, as part of the company’s ongoing expansion strategy.

Enkulu Technologies to distribute Brazil’s Control iD
News Access Control & Identity Management Products
Enkulu Technologies has been appointed as the first South African distributor of Control iD products; a Brazilian company offering a T&A range of solutions based on its range of biometric products.

HID Technology Seminar
Technews Publishing HID Global News Access Control & Identity Management Products
HID Global’s technology seminar introduced partners and distributors to the company’s new Signo range of readers and highlighted the benefits and global growth of mobile access credentials.

Celebrating a successful year
Gallagher Technews Publishing News Access Control & Identity Management Products
Gallagher Security hosted an end-of year event at the Steyn City Equestrian Centre in which it thanked its partners for another successful year and provided a glimpse into what the company will be releasing in 2023.

Innovation and service, 37 years and counting
Technews Publishing Impro Technologies Access Control & Identity Management Integrated Solutions
Innovation, simplicity and trust underpin the nearly 40 years of success of local access control brand, Impro Technologies, which is still run as an independent entity despite being acquired by ASSA ABLOY in 2016.

Access control for one of Britain’s oldest boarding schools
Access Control & Identity Management Education (Industry) Products
In 2022, Christ’s Hospital School, which hosts 18 boarding houses on site, needed to replace its access control security system with a new solution that would be simple to manage and maintain.

Improving safety and security
Gallagher Education (Industry) Access Control & Identity Management Integrated Solutions
Education facilities have more than enough to deal with when it comes to allocating budget. Security often seems to be the last item on the agenda but is more important than ever.

Putting the customer first
Gallagher Access Control & Identity Management
Gallagher predicts the global market will remain difficult for businesses throughout 2023, but believes that its customer-centric strategy will help the company to innovate its way to delivering outstanding value to customers, despite a challenging economy.