Biometrics find their way into PCs

MPC's Transport T1000 notebook PC includes a fingerprint scanner.

PC makers are putting their fingers on a new federal preference: PC biometric authentication.

'Legacy systems that rely exclusively on personal identification numbers or passwords to secure computers and information networks have some inherent risks that biometrics can mitigate,' the Defense Department's Biometrics Management Office has said in a policy statement.

The office's long-range vision is to make biometrics a departmentwide identity assurance technology by 2012. 'You cannot lose your biometric,' the office said. 'You cannot give your biometric to an-other person. For these reasons, biometrics provide DOD with an efficient and powerful tool.'

Passwords too often wind up on sticky notes or depend on easily guessed family or pet names, said Harvey Bondar, marketing vice president of DigitalPersona Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., which last month announced a partnership with Gateway Inc. for add-on PC fingerprint readers.

Now that fingerprint readers can connect through Universal Series Bus ports, their scanning speed has increased. Also, they occupy less desk real estate than before.

'As the cost comes down and demand goes up, we can better justify the cost of integrating [readers] into all our systems,' said Craig Phelps, public-sector security brand manager at Dell Computer Corp. He said Dell is evaluating potential biometric partners.

'These were generally niche applications until now,' Phelps said, 'but it's broadening.'

Gateway recently began re-selling the U.are.U Pro fingerprint authentication system from DigitalPersona as part of its desktop hardware or as an add-on. The U.are.U software can be trained to fill in authentication fields in any Microsoft Windows or Web-based application.

It includes a Microsoft Management Console snap-in for remote administration. The U.are.U Pro Server software supports Windows NT and Windows 2000 Active Directory.

DigitalPersona also is working with an original equipment manufacturer to embed its scanners in keyboards, Bondar said.

Starting in January, Apple Computer Inc. began reselling a fingerprint identification suite developed by Sony Electronics Inc. and compatible with Mac OS X. Sony's Puppy FIU-710 reader and authentication software starts around $179 and exports 8-bit fingerprint images.

'We're starting to get requests for biometrics on the desktop,' said Michael S. Adkins, president and chief executive officer of MPC Computers Inc. of Nampa, Idaho.

MPC's TransPort T1000 notebook PC has integrated a fingerprint reader on its keyboard for several years. The PC maker plans to release a fingerprint reader for its ClientPro desktop systems using the same fingerprint model, provided by TouchChip, a division of the multinational STMicroelectronics.

(Corrected 3:23 p.m. June 9, 2003)

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