Visions Corp. changes the face of the PC security

Try Visionics Corp.'s FaceIt PC 3.0, which works with a digital video camera to secure
a desktop computer against intruders.


The GCN Lab staff members were skeptical at first. After all, OCR and voice recognition
are still not mature technologies, and face recognition applications are greener still.


FaceIt surprised us--pleasantly.


For the test, we used Eastman Kodak Co.'s DVC 300 digital camera connected to a 300-MHz
Dell Computer Corp. Pentium II running Microsoft Windows 95--a higher-end setup than
FaceIt requires. Software installation was easy, but no other programs that use the
digital camera can be running during setup or use of FaceIt.


Then, we trained the software to recognize faces from collections of still photos.


In the first phase of recognition, FaceIt figures out where the face is in the video
picture. In the second phase, it determines whether the face matches one it has on file.


The two-step process is similar to the way humans and other animals recognize one
other, except that a computer cannot analyze an image as a whole and works on a
pixel-by-pixel basis.


So that's why high-end hardware is advisable. You could run the package on a 166-MHz
Pentium, but the computer must process lots of information to discern a face. Performance
was great on the speedy Dell PC. The slower the processor, the longer recognition will
take.


As you register as a user with FaceIt, you pick and choose from the best comparison
pictures. Once you have shown it a minimum of 10 pictures, the software will be ready to
recognize your face. But before leaving the administration module, test the recognition so
you don't have to worry about being locked out of your PC.


If the computer refuses to grant you access later, you can still type a password and
get in. Don't forget to enter the password during installation.


The software can be set to require a smile or blink from any person attempting access.
This feature gets around the possibility of an intruder holding up a photo. It's possible
to turn off the requirement, but it adds only a second or two, so we recommend turning it
on for maximum security.


After the software has reached the point where it can recognize you within a few
seconds, and the options are set as you want them, what do you do with it?


FaceIt chiefly acts as a security gatekeeper, but you could turn it into a video
answering machine, too. Just record .avi files of video and sound to play back whenever
FaceIt detects motion within camera range. The person who triggered the playback can then
leave a message, which FaceIt can forward to an e-mail account.


If you want to keep tabs on what's happening around your desk when you're away, FaceIt
will log video stills of who was there, who accessed your computer, who was denied access
and who was not recognized.


One consistent problem we ran into was that after the software ran all night when the
lights were out, the camera failed to readjust to daylight the next morning. We couldn't
determine whether this was the fault of the camera and its software or a FaceIt problem.


FaceIt also can encrypt files on your computer under your facial image. Once encrypted,
a file icon changes to that of the FaceIt software.


To decrypt, double-click on the file icon and look into the camera.


It does seem odd that you can't just lock files or entries in the Start menu.
Encryption is nice, but it likely would be used only when multiple users share a computer.


FaceIt can register different users with unique levels of access. For instance, John
needs to run a program that he wants to lock from Jane or vice versa. In this situation,
simply locking the file or program would
be preferable to encrypting it.


Users will be disappointed to learn they can't log on to a network or computer through
FaceIt. It's not quite up to that level of sophistication and is not yet integrated with
the Windows 95 log-in process.


It did perform as advertised, though, and it exceeded the lab staff's expectations. The
visual recognition engine was surprisingly fast and accurate.


During testing, the software never misidentified anyone, nor was it fooled if a user
wore or removed glasses. Visionics claims that changes in facial hair will not cause
misidentification, but we didn't test that claim.


Just imagine. Now you'll have reason to look at your computer and smile.


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