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A reseller opportunity “recognised” !

With a market expected to hit € 4.275 Billion Euros  by 2010 –biometrics is major revenue opportunity Biometric security is starting to become a mainstream technology: Everything from USB sticks to passports have biometric options. For a reseller, what are the key selling criteria for biometrics, and which products offer the lowest entry cost? We ask the experts how to sell the ‘biometric experience’ to an often sceptical community.

Risk reward

For resellers, the revenue opportunity offered by biometrics is potentially huge. The much quoted International Biometric Group Market and Industry Report 2006 believes revenues are projected to grow from €1.575 Billion Euros  in 2006 to €4.275 Billion Euros  in 2014, driven by large-scale government programmes and dynamic private-sector initiatives.

Fingerprint recognition currently has the largest share with around 43.6% of the biometric market in 2006, followed by face recognition at 19.0% and vein recognition growing to 3% from a zero base Although fingerprint technology has gained significant market share,other technologies are emerging with advantages in reliability, accuracy and deployment in harsher environments. New biometric technologies include vein recognition and verification via Iris, Hand Geometry, Signature and Voice, and are complemented by extensive Middleware and Identity Management Software.

The current climate of heightened security and increased border controls is one driving factor for biometrics, but adoption is also taking place within enterprise and even the high street. “Password systems are notoriously weak,” explained Mike Buchanan, head of marketing, at Electrone Europe, voicing a concern shared by many security experts. “Passwords are easily forgettable, many users write them down on scraps of paper - sometimes even sticking them to the computer monitor. Passwords can also be guessed, phished and covertly stolen,” he added. Passwords are not secure but do still have a place, as Jonas Andersson, director of new business at Precise Biometrics commented, ”Passwords are portable and easy to implement, but are only an indication of knowledge not authority, and ultimately the level of security they offer is relatively low.” For Andersson, biometrics can be as simple as a fingerprint or as complex as a three factor system.

“Resellers and systems integrators must take great care not to jump hastily onto the biometric bandwagon and make the technology choices quickly on ‘look’ and ‘feel’ alone,“ warned Mike Buchanan, head of marketing at Electrone Europe.


back of the hand systems are less prone to surface abrasion

His definition works on something you have – for example a smart token to log in, something that you know like a password, or something that you are, like a fingerprint, iris, vein pattern or another physical attribute. These three factors can be deployed individually or together to form a graded solution. The speed of response depends on whether a one-of-one or one-of-many system is used. Increasingly, End Users are opting for a one-of-one system where the template is stored on a smart card from Mifare, HID iCLASS, Legic or a proximity card with a supplementary memory chip. One-of-one systems dramatically reduce the verification time and enhance User acceptance.

The security industry is an obvious example of a sector which has embraced biometric technology, particularly in airports. Most recently the UK Home Office’s Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS) was extended to Gatwick Airport's South Terminal - the ninth UK airport to adopt the scheme. In June a four-month trial at London's Heathrow airport returned a highly positive report from air passengers. Both fingerprint and iris scanners were used for processing more than 3,000 volunteers for Cathay Pacific and Emirates flights to and from Dubai and Hong Kong. Other less publicised adopters include Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) at Delhi, India and the Armenian aviation authorities. In the case of vein recognition technology, the Identica VP II scanner is installed with more that 2m users and individual site traffic as high as 30,000 people per day. Andersson highlights governmental initiatives in Italy, France, Holland and Belgium that have embraced smart card technology with embedded biometrics. He believes the largest contracts will initially be governmental, but many reports also name Financial Services, Gaming and Hospitality, Health Care and Retail as potential high growth markets in the medium term.

i“Some of the most common problems are bad placement of finger, dirt particles or even just lack of training for the people operating the systems,” commented Jonas Andersson, director of new business at Precise Biometrics.

Findng the right supplier
The spectre of George Orwell’s vision from his book 1984 is often rehashed as a fear for biometrics. The notion of the state having complete access to a person’s identity and being able to track them wherever they go is often a negative connotation assigned to the technology. However in reality, tracking already exists with passport detail inspection and storage at border control, CCTV widely deployed in every major European city and widespread use of credit cards, location tracking systems on GSM mobile phones and electronic travel payment cards leave an indelible imprint of each person’s activities and location.  More pragmatic commentators believe that technology is only as scary as the way in which it is implemented. In the US for example, Electrone is the leading supplier of data entry devices into high schools. Naturally there is increased sensitivity around the use and storage of children’s biometric data and this is something it has had to counteract. One measure is that all pupils’ data must be destroyed at the end of the school year and pupils are requested to resubmit their biometric data at the start of the new school year. This prevents data form being kept for unnecessarily long periods of time. Advocates of biometrics argue that it is better to have an accurate method of verifying a person than an innocent person suffering from the increasing problem of identify theft and subsequent fraud. But is biometric technology reliable enough to be the indisputable solution to identity fraud? “Biometric systems vary in reliability,” warned Buchanan, “so it’s important to match the right system to each specific IT problem. Fingerprint scanners suffer in dirty environments while face recognition often fails in poorly-lit environments.” 

Nationwide biometric systems deployed in Thailand and Spain using e-cards with locally stored biometrics for interaction between citizens and health and social security authorities have measured false rejection of around 1 in 10,000. But finding figures on the accuracy of a system is somewhat clouded by the vested interest of vendors and disputed test criteria. “Some of the most common problems are bad placement of finger, dirt particles or even just lack of training for the people operating the systems,” explained Andersson. ”We had one particular situation where a VIP based biometric card system had a lot of failures due to people forgetting which finger they had registered with – this was solved by simply recording that information on the card as a prompt for the user and failure rates dropped to virtually zero.”

There are various measurements for reliability such as FAR (False Acceptance Rate), FTE (Failure to Enrol), FRR (False Rejection Rate) - each rate will differ between the various technologies. According to Richard Rimmer, marketing consultant for Hitachi Systems Solutions Division, its new Finger Vein technology is more reliable than more established systems. ”A recent study showed that Hitachi Finger Vein had an FTE of 0.46% compared to an Iris device with 33.33%,” he explained.

An alternative product is the vein recognition technology from Identica that uses the back of the hand with a scanning time of 0.1 second and compatibility with Pin, Smartcard and Proximity card technologies. Dr Flude, General Manager of Identica Europe, confirmed their commitment to the Reseller “ We provide a well proven product that is reliable, fast and accurate and as it is contact less does not suffer from dirt, contamination or bio hazard problems. The Weather Shield is designed to operate in extreme temperatures with significant dust and vibration hazards as are commonly found on construction sites and transport terminals”. In fact, the much quoted 6th test series by the International Biometric Group show significantly higher False Acceptance and rejection rates than the 0.1 rate that most manufacturers claim on marketing literature. In the test, false acceptance ran from 0.9% for an IRIS based system up to 6.47% for a leading fingerprint solution. However, incremental advances in technology are increasing reliability of these systems for both the algorithms used for matching and the physical hardware used for capture and testing.

Another equation in the area of reliability is the implementation process. A report commissioned by the European Parliament, entitled ‘Biometrics at the Frontiers: Assessing the impact on Society’, points out, “At the enrolment stage, a person enrols as Mr. X on the basis of the non-biometric system previously used. If he successfully enrols under a fake name on the basis of fake documents, it will be impossible to detect his false identity with the identification system. He has, in fact, acquired a new identity.”However, even the European Parliaments recognises that biometrics are “likely” to be widely adopted both at a national level, and probably and European level, within the next decade. It not a case of if – just a case of when.

The bottom line
For resellers and system integrators keen to get into the market, the advice from Buchanan is to look initially at more established technology. “Fingerprint scanners [are a] mature technology [that] can be produced in large numbers very economically and can be integrated easily into other products.” Vein recognition technology, at a higher cost, is designed to operate in situations where Asset Value or Security poses significant risk. Andersson also endorses fingerprint but adds that deployment via Smart card also reduces technical integration issues, as the smart card is an established technology and embedding biometrics within the device further reduces back-end integration costs.  In fact, back-end integration and interoperability is probably the most complex area and potentially a niche where smart integrators and resellers can carve out new business. Like the foundation of any new technology area, each vendor is keen to dominate the market and develop its own solution as the ‘standard’ for the industry.

According to Buchanan, the continued lack of interoperability has slowed down development and extensive adoption of biometric systems, and also could affect initiatives such as Chip and Pin in the home. One solution he suggests could be found in translating ‘middleware’ software. However, translations are extremely complicated and can involve simultaneously searching multiple, possibly very large, identification databases.

This search can require a huge amount of processing time which would be at odds with, say a fingerprint scanner at an airport check-in desk hoping to cut long queues quickly on ‘look’ and ‘feel’ alone,” warned Buchanan, adding, “They must remember that different methods are employed to store biometric data and a number of disparate search algorithms used to access it. “Just a couple of years after implementing a piece of biometric technology you may wish to add more features or use different scanning hardware.

This could have different algorithms and now the two databases really are like two different languages and do not talk to each other,” he cautioned. This interaction between systems, technologies and even inter-vendor compatibility could potentially become a lucrative area for the agile reseller, and a space worth investigating. Although there is no de facto accreditation in the biometric world, experts agree that an understanding of IT security is certainly very important and resellers who are unsure of their requirements or skills gaps should align themselves with a trusted security advisory company. These companies can provide the necessary expertise and deliver against SLA’s ensuring compliance. Andersson recommends that resellers also look at the compatibility list published by individual vendors and seek training accreditation on the constitute parts of a complete system including smart cards, readers, middleware and back end storage to ensure eligibility for tendering opportunities.

What’s hot!
Trying to spot the next big thing in an emerging market is a hard task. “The killer biometric product is going to be something that will work with a wide range of other devices,” is the view of Buchanan. “We have invested in biometric keyboards because of their universality. Everyone’s going to be using keyboards for a long time yet and having biometric functionality built within them makes practical and commercial sense.” Andersson is excited about the interaction between biometrics and other emerging technologies, and showcases contactless smartcards using RFID and biometrics. One such example is the Bornholms Trafikken ferry service in Denmark which is using the system for turnstile applications. Another hot area is for fingerprint biometric payment terminals that are starting to be tested in a few major retailers to allow for secure self service and payment. Further down the line, he envisions the potential for biometrics combined with the mobile phone to allow for instantaneous secure electronic payments from any location without the need for static reading points.

“Resellers and systems integrators must take great care not to jump hastily onto the biometric bandwagon and make the technology choices Hitachi claims the high accuracy of its Finger Vein technology will help it stand out from the biometric crowd.
Richard Rimmer from Hitachi believes its Finger Vein technology stands out for many applications due to its inherent security as an internal biometric with extremely high accuracy. “Other biometrics represents an uncomfortable compromise and will die out,” he explained. Royston Flude from Identica also believes “that vein recognition technology will be the system of choice for high value asset users with the back of the hand being less prone to surface abrasion and damage and could be the ‘system of choice’ for ATMs. We believe in supporting our Resellers in all their technical, specification and cost challenges.” Whether finger, vein, eyes, hands or even face prints eventually become the universal standard is anyone’s guess. What is certain is that adoption of biometrics will grow in the next few years and resellers need to start taking an interest in what is set to be a very valuable market.

IBG's Comparative Biometric Testing (CBT) is the industry's longest-running scenario test effort. CBT measures the accuracy and usability of commercial fingerprint, face recognition, iris recognition, voice recognition, signature recognition, hand geometry, and emerging biometrics systems. Below is a snapshot of major leaders in the biometrics field.


Vein Recognition

Fingerprint Iris Recognition
Fujitsu ActivCard IrisGuard
Hitachi AuthenTec Iridian
Identica Corp BIO-Key LG Electronics

Keystroke Dynamics

Biometric Security Card  
BioNet Systems Bioscrypt Voice Recognition
  DigitalPersona Nuance
Signature Recognition Fujitsu T-NETIX (SpeechWorks)
Cyber-SIGN Identix  
  Indivos Face Recognition
Hand Geometry NEC Cognitec
Recognition Systems, Inc. NITGen AcSys Biometrics
  Precise Biometrics Viisage
Skin Texture SAGEM MORPHO Visionics (Identix)
Delean Vision SecuGen  
  ST Microelectronics