Understanding limits makes biometrics easier to implement

The market sees an uptick in more security systems marrying traditional access control with biometric technology
Monday, September 1, 2003

A need to take security to the next level has given rise to the increased integration of biometric options with new and existing access control systems.

Where in the early days of biometrics the systems were often viewed as competitors or substitutes for traditional access control, today the focus is on making the best use of multiple components to serve diverse security needs.

Neil Licht, product marketing manager for International Electronics Inc., Canton, Mass., said dealers, in talking with end users of access control systems, “are having conversations about security as a process.” The days of one option fits all have been replaced, he said, with discussions about what different access control options are needed throughout a facility.

A smart card or keypad may be the right solution for the main entrance, but a higher level of security, including a biometric option such as a fingerprint reader, may be required as a deterrent in more sensitive areas of a building.

Those interviewed by Security Systems News said while several factors are restricting the wide use of biometrics within the access control application, ongoing advancements are addressing the most critical and making the outlook bright.

Key among these limitations, Licht noted, is the simple fact that with biometrics, the user is the credential. That restricts the use of biometrics to those people who are enrolled in the system, whether it is fingerprint or hand geometry, iris scans, facial recognition or another emerging biometric form.

Speed, ease of use and comfort level with the concept of biometrics is also a determining factor in when and where it is integrated into an access control scenario.

“It’s a balance between what they need for security and what level of intrusiveness they’ll tolerate,” commented Jim Robell, vice president-product marketing at EID Access, Beaverton, Ore.

In its ideal state, Robell said, biometric access control happens without the person even knowing about it. Although many biometric options still require some physical or close contact with a machine, Robell said the advent of long range active RFID makes it possible to read a badge with embedded biometric information at a distance of up to 100 meters.

Time is saved, he said, because by the time the person approaches the checkpoint, the system has already been able to search its database, making the one-to-one match nearly seamless.

Acceptance of the biometric device and ease of use and enrollment are among the issues to consider when implementing this form of access control, said Bill Spence, director of marketing at IR Recognition Systems, Campbell, Calif. To gain widespread acceptance, he said, “the device must cause no discomfort or concern for the user.”

Further, he said, “It must be easy to enroll people. People get frustrated having to go through the process…they are predisposed against the system.”

Finally, Spence said, it must be easy to use and work correctly. “If a biometric is working properly it does two things: It keeps the bad guys out and lets the good guys in, and it does so quickly.”

When gauging time, the entire process should be looked at, Spence said, including the time taken to enter an ID number, position the body or card for use of the biometric and reading time.

Also a consideration is the ease with which the biometric option is integrated into an existing access control system. While some companies may be building a system from the ground up, often the need for additional security warrants adding on, rather than wholesale replacement.

“People don’t want to spend money on a brand new system,” noted Art Buckland, chief executive officer at Advanced Biometric Security, Littleton, Mass., a company that provides middleware.

Instead, he said, most users are interested in integrating the biometric “into their current legacy IT and security systems.”

Cost and systems capabilities are additional factors that have been limiting when and where biometrics are used, said Greg Taylor, marketing manager for security solutions at Honeywell in Toronto.

“How do you rationalize the size of the piece and the robust system for the look up?” said Taylor, who said biometrics are often competing for processing power and database spacewithin an existing IT system.

Still, Taylor and others say the future for biometrics as an access control feature is a good one as technology advances and systems become more user friendly.