The Battle of the Body Parts: Which biometric will prevail?

Iris scan technologies crowned as the winner with most long-term potential
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—Representatives of four different forms of biometric identification—facial recognition, iris scan, fingerprint, and hand geometry—each made a case for their biometric being most prevalent in the future at TechSec Solutions 2016.

The winner, chosen by a panel of four Security Systems News “20 under 40” Class of 2015 award winners, was iris scan.

Manish Dalal, general manager of ZKAccess, represented fingerprint technologies. ZK Access is a division of ZKTeco, which he said is “the world’s largest manufacturer of biometric and RFID solutions.” The company’s products are primarily used for time-and-attendance and access control, he said, with 80 million units installed worldwide.

Susie Osowski, product manager—biometrics, Allegion represented hand geometry recognition. “Hand geometry is purely measuring the size and shape of your hand. It’s not taking any fingerprints; it’s not taking any palm prints. It is purely a geometry measurement—it is taking 90 different measurements of length, width, and height of your fingers and hand,” she said. The reader pairs the measurements with a template that is brought up with an ID card or PIN.

Blaine Frederick, VP product management—EyeLock, Stanley Security, discussed iris scans. EyeLock is partnered with Stanley Security is a separate company headquartered in New York.

Iris scanning is sometimes confused with retina scanning, Frederick said. Retina scanning “is an older technology that actually looks at the back part of your eye, the veins,” he said.  Iris technology, on the other hand, takes a picture and “we look at the color pattern in your eye—it’s very nonintrusive, it’s very simple to interact with,” Frederick said.

Jeff Sebek, VP of business development for Stone Lock Global, presented on facial recognition. Stone Lock was probably the newest company on the stage, Sebek said, founded in 2011.

“Where our facial recognition technology is a little bit different is the fact that it is actually not image-based,” Sebek said. “When you approach one of our devices, it’s flooding your face with infrared light and it’s actually doing a reflectivity saturation of over 2,000 points.”

Ray Coulombe, founder and managing director of, moderated the session, held here, at TechSec Solutions 2016 in February.

Four of SSN’s “20 under 40” Class of 2015, two integrators and two end users, acted as judges: Christopher C. Moore, manager, public safety, and security, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, Mass.; Ross Bourgeois, assistant chief of public safety, Mercedes-Benz Superdome/Smoothie King Center/Champion Square; Henry Hoyne, VP of professional services, Northland Control Systems; and Scott Ranger, VP of operations, CONTAVA.

Moderator Coulombe asked each of the biometric experts to discuss where their biometric excels.

Fingerprint scan is a long-established biometric, according to Dalal. Fingerprint authentication is the most cost-effective biometric currently being deployed, and is easy to use, he said. The technology is “extremely fast and extremely accurate when it comes to matching.”

In addition, the sensors are small, and the fingerprint technologies have the “most standardized specifications as far as the template is concerned,” said Dalal.

Fingers can become dry or injured, making them more difficult to read—but because you have 10 fingers, you have plenty of back-ups, Dalal joked.

Osowski said hand geometry scanners, as they are not scanning for finger- or palm prints, work with adverse conditions. “Your hands can be dirty, they can be oily, they can be dry, it’s not going to matter; it’s still going to be able to verify.”

She called hand geometry a “proven” biometric in use since the 1970s, with about a million installations worldwide, according to Osowski.

Hand geometry does not raise the same privacy concerns as other biometrics, according to Oswoaski. “We’re not taking unique data from you. The size and shape of your hand can’t be reverse-engineered in order to use it somewhere else.”

Minor changes to hand geometry, such as a small bandage, won’t deny access to a user, she said. The template is also updated with each use, which helps the biometric adapt to weight changes.

Fredrick said the iris doesn’t change over time and is the most stable biometric “From about 6 months to the day you die, your iris stays exactly the same.”

EyeLock uses video to capture the iris image, for ease of use, but other companies use still images. The reader then converts the image into a template to match it with another template.

Frederick commented that the technology isn’t as theatrical as it appears in movies, where lasers scan over a user’s eye. “If they were to put one of our devices in a movie, it would be pretty boring, because a person just glances at it and walks away.”

Furthermore, as one of the few touch-less biometrics, it’s hygienic,” Frederick said. He called the iris a “highly available” biometric, not hidden by gloves or a mask. EyeLock’s device work even if a user is walking with their hands full, an important feature for many applications, he said. 

Like with iris scan technologies, facial recognition also has the convenience of being touch-less, Stone Lock’s Sebek said. “All they have to do is look at themselves on the screen, and they know, if their face is on the screen, they're going to get authenticated.”

“Our technology is smart enough [where] if you enroll one twin and not the other, the other twin will not get in. Or, if you enroll both twins, our technology is proven to be able to know which twin is which,” Sebek said.

Stone Lock’s facial recognition, similar to hand geometry, also updates its template on use. Because the technology uses infrared light to read a deeper structure of the face, “Even if you get in a bar fight and you have a black eye, you still have a lot of points of saturation left and available to you to be able to authenticate,” Sebek said.

False acceptance rates among were low for all biometrics. The false acceptance rate for iris scan using one eye is 1 in 1.5 million, Frederick said, and if the scanner reads both eyes, the rate decreases to 1 in 2.25 trillion. Dalal said fingerprint technologies have a 0.001 percent false acceptance rate.

“The most desirable applications for fingerprint recognition are where you need to have an ROI,” Dalal said. Using this biometric in time clocks cuts down on “buddy punching,” saving the company money. Controlling access to hazardous materials is another key application for fingerprint biometrics, he said.

Hand geometry is used in critical infrastructure, Osowski said, “specifically data centers and nuclear facilities, we have a strong application base there.” The biometric also has health care, banking and finance, and school/recreation center applications.

“You can use hand geometry anywhere. Typically, you’re going to see it anywhere a card reader can be used—it’s no more complicated a set up in a security system than a card reader,” Osowski said. “One of our more exciting installations was in the 2012 London Olympics.”

Iris scan works in the same verticals as other biometrics, such as “high security applications and ease-of-use applications,” Frederick said. “We’ve seen the largest uptake in iris in banking, healthcare, education, and then in technology development.”

Facial recognition is a biometric that can handle high volumes of people, Sebek said. “We have an application where we have over 45 people per minute going through turnstile lanes in a two-factor mode.” Facial recognition also works well in “clean” environments, where users might not be able to take off a suit or glove, but can still show their face through a protective shield, he said.

Coulombe also asked the speakers to discuss known limitations of their biometric technologies.

Cold and dry environments, where the fingerprint could change, are the least desirable applications for fingerprint recognition, he said. The technology also has difficulty when the user demographic is younger than 8 or older than 60.

Hand geometry is not well suited for identification; the technology can only verify a match between a template, brought up by an ID card or PIN, and the hand presented. The technology also has difficulty with “young children and the elderly, specifically those with arthritis,” she said.

Because of their large size, hand geometry readers are not suitable for some applications, she said.

Frederick said that mirrored or polarized sunglasses can interfere with iris scanning as can cataracts. Cost is one of the biggest challenges for iris technologies, according to Frederick.

Sebek said user-friendliness is a crucial part of the security environment. “The tougher you make it, the more likely, we, as humans, are to find ways to thwart it and make it easier for ourselves—who cares about the security parameters I put around it,” he said.

Dalal shared a similar point. “There’s nothing we can prevent if the user does not cooperate, and I believe that is true with any biometric system,” he said.

Throughout the presentations, the judges asked questions. After a final series of questions, the four judges announced the winner of the Battle of the Body Parts: iris scan.

The judges found iris scan to be the most compelling and most secure biometric. They did say that fingerprint is the most reliable, but they believe iris has the greatest long-term potential, they said. 

Features that the judges liked about iris scan included: hands-free technology, low failure rate, and the fact that there is little change in the biometric information over a user’s life.