Scanning the Benefits of Biometrics

Oct. 18, 2012
Biometrics offer building owners a scalable solution that reduces many of the inconveniences of traditional access control, such as undocumented access, ID swapping, credential replacement, and manual badge checks.

Biometrics offer building owners a scalable solution that reduces many of the inconveniences of traditional access control, such as undocumented access, ID swapping, credential replacement, and manual badge checks.

Advancements in biometric technology have improved performance and reliability and lowered costs have made these options affordable beyond high-security applications. Read on to learn about emerging uses for biometrics.

The Basics of Biometrics
Biometrics have long been used by the law enforcement community in the form of fingerprints, but digitizing personal identification data has paved the way for broader use in commercial and institutional settings.

Keys, ID badges, passwords, and codes are effective security measures, but they can also be replicated, stolen, lost, or forgotten. The possibility of human oversight can cause a hassle at checkpoints, or worse, create an opening for someone to replicate the credential and gain access.

A biometric ID is tied to a physical characteristic that is unique to the carrier – the geometry of a palm, the shape of an iris, or the pattern of a fingerprint. Using this data for access control is more secure because it requires the individual to be physically present when authenticating – unlike a password or a badge, biometric markers aren’t transferable.

“Using biometrics as part of an integrated identity management system is more reliable and cost-effective as it eliminates the problems of having multiple identities tracked over disconnected access points,” says Phil Scarfo, senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for Lumidigm, a biometrics solution provider.

Biometrics can be deployed in a number of building areas as well as easily integrate with your existing security systems. Some of the most common applications aren’t used for the general population, but instead grant access to a select group for a specific area within a facility.

You can use biometrics to tighten up security by:

  • Restricting sensitive healthcare areas, such as medical supply, surgery suites, maternity wards, pharmacies, and office areas
  • Approving IT professionals to access server rooms
  • Preventing non-essential employees from accessing to storage rooms, docks, basements, mechanical rooms, and service corridors
  • Strengthening dorm safety by eliminating tailgating and piggybacking from swapped IDs
  • Improving the usability of hotel key cards
  • Gaining better control over secondary entrances

“If access control systems are to control where people, not credentials, can and cannot go, then only a biometric device truly provides this capability,” stresses Emily Flink, associate product marketing manager, readers, credentials, and biometrics for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies.


Justifying the Costs
Like most security solutions, the cost of a biometric system is difficult to estimate – basic differences between the systems as well as propriety technologies cause price points to vary significantly. But the majority of companies balance costs by offering customization, scalability, and enrollment management.

A Guide to Biometric Options

There are numerous biometric technologies that an owner can deploy in a commercial or institutional setting. Considerations like the number of occupants who need to be processed, how many entrances will have biometric readers, and the time required for each authentication may influence your decision.

Generated from scans of the external fingerprint or can include the internal fingerprint echoed in the capillary bed. The information can be stored as a template within the reader or on a smart card the user must simultaneously present. Because multispectral imaging captures the interior fingerprint, dirt, scars, and moisture won’t interfer with verification.

Hand Geometry
Creates a template based on your hand’s profile, such as width, thickness, length, and shape. Users place their hand on the reader that takes a photo of the hand and its shadow, which is then compared to the template on file. Embedded software can track minute changes, such as weight fluctuations and jewelry, to ensure accuracy over time.

Iris Scanning
Measures key dimensions of a person’s iris, mainly distances between the center and edges of the pupil, the eyelids and lashes, and the edge of the iris. Contacts, glasses, or corrective surgery won’t distort iris shape. Long-range scanners are currently in development and would allow an iris to be captured while at a distance or in motion.

Vein Imprint
Uses near-infrared light to illuminate veins in the hand, which are just as unique as irises or fingerprints, and software analyzes the pattern. Usability is improved with this technology because obstructions on the skin’s surface (dirt, scars) won’t interfere with verification. Additionally, a vein pattern can’t be left in the open for possible replication, which is a remote possibility with fingerprints.

Goes beyond a signature match, which can be easy to forge. This system analyzes the pressure, speed, and sequencing of how a person forms text, not just the pattern of the letters. The required text can also serve as a password that must be authenticated with a person’s writing traits.

Emerging Technologies
Facial recognition, voiceprints, gait recognition, and mobile-enabled biometrics are on the horizon. Most applications can be found in transportation hubs like airports or for government and military use. Many of these options are still in testing phases or have significant cost barriers. Proceed with caution.

Worried about justifying the upfront investment to your company leadership? Identify how inefficiencies in your current security protocol could be rectified by biometrics.

“Biometric authentication can eliminate the inefficiencies of multiple digital identities, databases, credentials, and organizations managing enterprise access, including physical access. Addressing these gaps easily justifies investment cost,” Scarfo explains. “Biometrics can streamline operations, make physical and logical access easier and faster for users, increase security, provide an audit trail, and eliminate the help desk.”

Biometrics can also reduce time and labor for personnel, whether it’s reducing manned check points, card and key replacements, or password changes.

“Just as there is a price associated with the time spent to complete these seemingly simple tasks, when added together, the overall administration of a key or card system is costly,” Flink says. “Biometric data can’t be lost, stolen, or forgotten – it doesn’t wear out or need to be replaced.”

Allay Privacy Concerns
Occupants can be leery of enrolling in a biometric system, whether there are concerns about how data is stored or the basic principle of biological identification. But unlike Hollywood, which portrays biometrics as easy to replicate and hack, the reality is that this technology has already proven its reliability in various military, government, and high-security applications for several decades.

“Owners want strong authentication credentials for biometrics – the same level of security already provided by smart cards,” says Scarfo. “Unlike proximity cards and their readers, smart cards and biometrics can go through a challenge and response sequence to initiate conversations with the network. Card signatures are checked to make sure the card or biometric is indeed authentic and hasn’t been tampered.”

Biometric authentication can be strengthened when it’s part of a multi-modal system, one that requires two levels of identification to gain access. For example, a fingerprint scanner or hand geometry reader can be easily paired with a smart card or PIN password, as well as any other biometric device.

Communicate to occupants that all biometric data is encrypted, just like their personnel file with HR or medical records would be. Even if the information were improperly accessed, all a hacker would see is a string of 1’s and 0’s.

You can also emphasize how your existing security measures are already vulnerable to breaches. Outline areas of your building that could benefit from more stringent security, such as server rooms, pharmacy storage, or stock rooms.

Let employees know how many times a password needs to be reset, how many keys are lost each year, and the rate at which replacement ID cards are issued. Remind them that each incident weakens security in the long run.

“With traditional card access, once a badge is lost, it is still active in the access control system from the moment the badge is misplaced to the time it is subsequently reported,” says Flink. “By adding a biometric to the access control system, a badge alone cannot be used to gain access.”

Whether biometric data is stored on a smart card or the biometric reader, the ID template is specific to that building. Biometric information isn’t shared between different manufacturers, won’t be stored in a single database, and is rarely compatible between readers at multiple locations.

“A single smart card can store both the user’s ID number and biometric template. Because of this, there is no need to distribute hand templates across a network of readers or require the access control system to manage biometric templates,” Flink assures.

“This means integration with any existing access control application is greatly simplified, eliminating extra network infrastructure costs. Because the template only resides on the card, the solution also eases individual privacy concerns,” she continues.

Parting Cautions
Owners should take caution to fully explore the impact of biometrics on their overall security. You may need to have meetings with HR and legal prior to implementation. Occupant briefings and training will also be key.

Biometrics must also follow ADA guidelines, notes Sean Ahrens, a practice leader and manager for security consulting services with Aon Risk Solutions. A hand geometry reader might be at the right level for both populations, but an iris or fingerprint scanner will certainly be out of reach for some. It might be necessary to have two readers at different levels to make sure all occupants can be accommodated.

You should also consider how visible your biometrics will be. Any prominently displayed security system can be a tip off about valuables that lie within.

“Generally, biometrics create the perception of a higher level of security, which can ultimately be a disadvantage,” cautions Ahrens. “A biometric device can afford additional interest to a would-be aggressor – it sends the message ‘assets are in here,’ whether that’s the case or not.”

Make sure that the addition of biometrics is fully supported by sound protocol and building design. All facilities can benefit from a layered security approach and biometrics are just one of many tools to create a safer environment.

Jennie Morton [email protected] is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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