Auto-parts company designs security keyboard

If malicious users tried to bypass the Cherry keyboard's biometric security features by unplugging it and substituting a regular keyboard, they would be locked out of the system.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Keyboard incorporates smart-card and fingerprint readers to put hard-to-bypass biometric security on the user's desktop

It's interesting when a company known as a leader in one market enters another.

Since 1960, Cherry Corp. has sold automotive parts. Now it's getting into the IT security field with keyboards that incorporate both smart-card and fingerprint readers.

The Air Force recently adopted Cherry's standalone smart-card readers. A reader built into a keyboard is an even easier way for users to access biometrically secured systems.

My test unit's fingerprint reader was accurate and highly responsive. Its optical chip sat just above the numeric keypad.

Combined with a smart-card reader, the keyboard should provide enough security to forgo passwords. A combination of smart-card token plus fingerprint follows the National Institute of Standards and Technology's recent advice to use two biometric authentication methods.

The keyboard connects to a system's Universal Serial Bus port. Once the accompanying software is installed on the system, the security can't be bypassed by disconnecting the Cherry unit and changing keyboards. You can, however, swap Cherry keyboards if one malfunctions, and any intruders would be locked out without the proper token and biometric print.

An administrator who needs top security can add a password layer on top of the other precautions.

It's no big surprise that Cherry got into the security side of IT. About 30 percent of the vehicles built in the United States have Cherry seat-belt sensors for air bag deployment'an area where precise measurements mean life or death. That kind of accuracy suits IT security well.

Although there's not a lot of difference between keyboards, the Cherry model feels solid. Key presses give a lot of tactile feedback. For that reason, Cherry has muffled the key clicks.

Even though I don't plan to continue using the security functions, I do want to keep using this quiet keyboard because typing on it feels great.

The price will probably discourage administrators who don't need top security, however. A stripped-down model without a smart-card reader costs more than $130. That's not bad when you get a built-in security device, but it's a bit much for just a keyboard.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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