Chicago housing agency sings password blues

Chicago housing agency sings password blues

At the Chicago Housing Authority, there's a mouse in the house.

The nation's third-largest public housing authority is swapping its password-based network security for a biometric system that uses a computer mouse to scan and submit user fingerprints.

The way the agency's network was set up, users had to type in several user IDs and passwords, said Bryan Land, assistant CIO at CHA. 'People were always calling, saying they forgot their passwords,' Land said.

It cost the agency between $300 and $500 per user per year to manage passwords, he said.

Worse yet, users would post passwords on their computers on yellow sticky notes, he said, potentially compromising network security.

The agency this summer began phasing in the U-Match mouse from BioLink Technologies International Inc. of Miramar, Fla.

'You place your thumb on the optical reader, wait a second, and you have access to the network,' Land said.

The U-Match mouse looks like a standard two-button mouse. The built-in scanner extracts what BioLink president and CEO Gene Chayevsky called 'minutiae,' 30 to 50 points on the fingerprint. The mouse does not capture and store the whole image, Chayevsky said, just an encrypted mathematical model of the fingerprint minutiae.

The agency's network also uses BioLink's Authenteon enterprise server, which stores the fingerprint data and performs the actual fingerprint matches, Chayevsky said.

CHA provides low-income housing within Chicago, Land said. Most of its funding comes from the Housing and Urban Development Department.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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