In the blink of an eye

In the blink of an eye

Biometric security solutions were once equated with Hollywood movies and poor performance, but not anymore

Forget Harrison Ford and Blade Runner. Forget Tom Cruise and Minority Report. And please don’t mention Star Wars or Star Trek.

Because biometric security is finally ambling past its Hollywood Sci-Fi past and into the real world, capturing an increasingly hefty portion of the IT market. From voice authentication, facial recognition, and fingerprint identification to iris and vein scanning, biometrics has come of age.

In Australia, the biggest indicator of this part of the security sector’s maturity came late last year when the Australian Customs Service rolled out SmartGate – a $61.7 million biometric security system for the country’s international airports. And with most hardware manufacturers implementing some form of biometric security or another, the outlook is bright.

\We are beginning to see more interest in the biometrics space. Organisations are keen to strengthen security, including multifactor authentication and digital signatures for example,” IDC associate vicepresident research, Tim Dillon, said. “Biometrics is being considered as part of a push for stronger digitally assured identities. This is primarily driven by a desire to prevent ID fraud and identity theft. As compliance becomes more of a pressing issue, we suspect this will also drive consideration.

“Currently, we estimate that approximately one in four organisations have some form of biometric security option in place and another one in three companies are at least considering some for evaluation in the next 12 months.”

And all this spells opportunity for channel players that are able to position the technology appropriately in the prevailing economic climate.

Arguably, the two most common forms of biometric security over recent years have been fi ngerprint scanning and voice recognition.

Fingerprint scanning is used across the world, from immigration contact points at airports to corporate laptops, like those produced by Lenovo. And while all forms of biometric security were criticised for poor performance rates and too much hype in days gone by, Lenovo product development manager, Lindsay Tobin, contends we are beyond that phase and into viable and reliable deployments.

“Overall, the focus has been on fingerprint, being that it is practical and easy to implement and use, while also offering a great deal of security. We are seeing very a high mix of fingerprint readers on our ThinkPads,” he said. “We have certainly seen improvements in quality and reliability such that today governments are rolling this out in increasing numbers. They are confident that it offers a level of security sufficient for their needs. That is a mature technology.”

Similarly, voice recognition technologies are highlighted by many as experiencing significant uptake in the market.

Unisys head of enterprise security program, Mike Webber, noted across the globe there were familiar patterns of adoption with biometric voice solutions in call centres.

“You are looking to provide faster customer service and privacy because they no longer have to provide all the personal details to someone working in a call centre,” he said. “With call centres being moved offshore in some instances, one of the big questions is, how can I be sure the people in that call centre in another country aren’t stealing my personal information? One of the logical answers is don’t give it to them.”

Instead, Webber suggests deploying a biometric security solution that uses voice authentication and cuts down the time needed to run through verification questions.

“Biometric technologies have the ability to give more privacy than non-biometric technologies,” he claimed. “But the organisations that are considering delivering it need to ensure they are considering the entire identity and credential processes.” The voice authentication option is appearing as a big time saver in organisations that have high call volumes.

“This is being driven by reliability around vendor offerings but also behind a recognition that it can be used for more than just security,” security executive at IT services provider Logica, Ajoy Ghosh, said. “The channel needs to be looking at those bits of voice recognition that drive efficiencies. Because too often they are still in the mind set of biometrics and security. When you start talking to business about that they very quickly turn off. But when you reset that conversation and start saying you could save a client 30 seconds on every call in the call centre, they start becoming interested.

“Because we are now talking about business aspects and efficiencies, you need a lot more focus on integration with the systems that it interacts with.”

Australian outfit, VeCommerce, is one example of a company that focuses on this field of voice biometrics.

General manager of marketing, Martyn Riddle, said the firm partners with several integrators, including Telstra, to take its offering to government and enterprise.

“We got our first real commercial contract with a company called Australian Health Management (AIM),” he said. “What they are using it for and how we are really positioning and selling voice biometrics is in the call centre environment to do one of two things, but usually both. Number one is to shave time off the call handling time.”

This includes getting rid of the security questions, which Riddle said can be up to 50 per cent of the call time.

“When you can eradicate that, you have a huge efficiency saving in the call centre. The second issue, and perhaps the more pressing problem, is it is not really secure at all.

“If you can use voice biometrics to replace that process, the call becomes a lot more secure. The voice biometric is more unique than your fingerprint. All you need to do, and what AIM do, is get the client to ring up and say ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6’. The system will do a voice recognition and recognise whether you said it and look up in the database for that account and see if there is a voice imprint enrolled on that account. If there is it will compare the two, and if they match or come close to matching it will verify the person and put them through.”

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