The service wants to eliminate passwords for verifying users

The service wants to eliminate passwords for verifying users

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

The Army will investigate biometric recognition devices as a way to reduce or eliminate password use for accessing computer and weapons systems.

Commercial biometrics can be leveraged for military systems, said Phillip Loranger, a division chief at the Army Information System Security Office in the Directorate of Information Systems for Command, Control, Communications and Computers.

The Army wants soldiers to have unique identifiers that cannot be stolen or forgotten. 'We need to dump the way we do passwords,' Loranger said this month at a meeting of the Biometric Consortium in Arlington, Va.

The service approved the study early this month and is kicking it off with fiscal 1999 year-end funds. Loranger declined to put a price on the effort, which he will lead. He said the study, slated for completion by spring, will consider the legal and sociological implications and the feasibility of large-scale biometric recognition for Army systems.

Iris recognition, in which an imaging system scans the pattern of an eye's iris, will be the first technology studied. It has an edge over fingerprint and voice recognition, Loranger said, because it works even when someone is wearing protective headgear.

'Voice doesn't work through a gas mask,' Loranger said. 'Fingerprints can't be taken through rubber gloves.' He said recent innovations allow iris recognition through plastic face shields and eyeglasses.

The system uses a small imaging device, not unlike a digital camera, that plugs into a PC and compares a user's iris image against stored patterns of known users.

The study will also examine fingerprint and voice recognition. Loranger said the Army already collects soldiers' fingerprints. The recognition tools for desktop PCs cost $100 to $2,000, he said, and can be built into keyboards, mice and notebook computers.

Voice recognition systems can work either at desktop systems or over dial-up lines, re-quiring only a microphone and a sound card.

The study will examine setting up an Army or Defense Department center for biometric technology. 'You couldn't find a better test bed anywhere' than the Army, Loranger said, because its computers run at least 17 operating systems, including legacy OSes.

Too hard

He acknowledged that some systems still will require passwords, at least with today's technology. But asking soldiers to remember multiple eight-digit, randomly generated pass codes is 'hard security,' Loranger said. 'The easier you make reliable security, the better that security will be.'

He said he is more interested in integrating off-the-shelf technology into military systems than in conducting an extensive development effort from scratch.

Loranger said he envisions a time when biometric recognition will even be integrated into the handgrips of guns to prevent unauthorized use. 'All it takes is time and money,' he said.


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