Security: Biometrics gains a foothold
- By Richard W. Walker
- May 01, 2003
The fingerprint system DOD uses in Korea 'allows us to wirelessly check who the person is against a database rather than a guard just looking at an ID and saying, 'That looks like you.' '
'Defense Manpower Data Center's Mike Masica
If you want to see the near future of biometric security control, look at the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) in Seaside, Calif. A few years back, when the center's operations-support officials began developing a biometric access-control system for entrance gates at military bases in South Korea, they already knew which biometric identifier to use.
The center, which handles the Defense Department's personnel processing, had been using fingerprint templates for its vast Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System database since 1996.
'Back then, it was the most mature biometric technology,' said Mike Masica, chief of DMDC's operations support division. 'And because we've been doing this for a while, we continued down the road we were on.'
Masica said his team looked at retinal scanning as a possible alternative but found it too intrusive.
'We did some testing on the retinal scan,' he said. 'The technology's better now, but at that time you had to put your head up against this thing and face a blinding white light.'
Although not long ago retinal scanning seemed about to take the lead in biometrics, fingerprint technologies have improved. For now, fingerprint images tend to be the most accurate. In the system deployed in South Korea, 'We have very few false positives,' Masica said. 'When we register people we set the capture score very high so we won't get a lot of them.'
The system, called the Defense Biometric Identification system (DBIDS) and deployed in South Korea in 2001, uses two fingerprints, from the left and right index fingers.
A National Institute of Standards and Technology report last year on biometric technologies found that the print from one index finger can provide a 90 percent probability of verification with a 1 percent probability of false acceptance for verification. It also concluded that the use of prints from more than one finger increased system accuracy.
Accuracy of biometric systems is critical to user acceptance, said Jackie Fenn, a research fellow at Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn.
'The actual biometric technique is probably not as important as the experience users have with accuracy,' she said. 'If they get shut out too many times'or even once'they're just not going to like the technology.'
In South Korea, acceptance of DBIDS has been no problem. The top brass thought it 'was great, the best authentication system of anybody in DOD,' Masica said. Before DBIDS, guards simply eyeballed ID cards and vehicle passes.
DBIDS is now used at 22 bases and 50 entrance gates across South Korea. DMDC began registering users and fielding the system about three years ago, capturing fingerprints, photographs and demographic information for a dedicated database. When DBIDS registrants arrive at a gate, sentries scan their ID cards with bar code readers connected to Toughbook notebook PCs from Panasonic Computer Solutions Co. of Secaucus, N.J., to authenticate them against information in a central database via their LAN.
If they choose, guards also can scan fingerprints at the gates using a DFR 90, a single-fingerprint reader from Identix Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn.
DMDC has begun replacing the DFR 90s, which have been in use since the system was launched, with Identix's new DFR 2080 single-fingerprint scanners, a smaller unit with improved imaging technology and 500-dot-per-inch resolution.
The DMDC team also has incorporated wireless technology into the DBIDS system in South Korea so that guards can authenticate identities when there are long lines of vehicles at the gate'which happened often when security was tightened after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Otherwise, guards would have to collect ID cards, take them back to the guard shack and scan them, or visually check IDs and wave the drivers through.
'That allows us to wirelessly check who the person is against a database rather than a guard just looking at an ID and saying, 'That looks like you,' ' Masica said.
The access system has caught the eye of other Defense posts around the world.
DMDC is rolling out a biometric access system at about 60 military installations in Germany, where the Identix's DFR 2080 scanner will be used. Equipment installations at the gates are scheduled to begin this summer, Masica said.
The agency also is developing a biometric system for access control at Army installations in Kuwait, largely to authenticate identities of day laborers who enter the bases.
But in Kuwait, officials have decided that hand geometry identification will work better than fingerprint templates.Not clean enough
'The environment at the gates is such that fingerprints might not work,' Masica said. 'The laborers' hands could be scarred up or dirty.'
There is no question that biometric technologies are making inroads into DOD security systems, but elsewhere around government it's slow going.
'On enterprise use, internal within government for IT and network access, it's still struggling somewhat'it's still mostly at the pilot stage or [in] small departmental rollouts,' said Gartner's Fenn. 'The technology's just not stable and static enough yet that people want to invest thousands and thousands of dollars in hardware that's going to be changing in the next couple of years.'
But as the technology continues to improve and the need for security grows, that likely will change. In fact, it's safe to say that momentum toward biometrics is beginning to build in government. The USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 directed NIST to evaluate biometric technologies for Congress.