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Wednesday, 22 October 2008





1. Introduction.
2. How Biometric Systems Work?
3. Biometric Methodologies.
4. Biometric Applications.
5. Drawbacks of Biometrics.
6. Conclusion.


While the word “Biometrics” sounds very new and “High -Tech”, it stands for a very old and simple concept: Human Recognition. In technical terms, Biometrics is the automated technique of measuring the physical characteristics or personal trait of an individual and comparing that characteristic or trait to a database for purpose of recognizing that individual.

Examples of physical characteristics used in Biometrics include:

· Chemical composition of body odor
· Facial features
· Features of the eye
o Retina
o Iris

· Finger prints
· Hand geometry

Examples of personal traits used in biometrics include:

· Handwritten signature
· Keystrokes/Typing patterns
· Voiceprint

Every person can be distinguished by these traits. So biometrics is best defined as measurable physiological and / or behavioral characteristics that can be utilized to verify the identity of an individual.

Biometric systems consist of both hardware and software; the hardware captures the salient human characteristic, and the software interprets the resulting data and determines acceptability. Practically all biometric systems work in the same manner. First a person is enrolled into a database using the specified method. Information about a certain characteristic of the human is captured. This information is usually placed through an algorithm that turns the information into a code that the database stores. When the person needs to be identified, the system will take the information about the person again, translates this new information with the algorithm , and then compares the new code with the ones in the database to discover a match and hence, identification.

For example, a guy’s fingerprint is scanned. An algorithm turns the fingerprint into a code which is stored in the database. Later, a person needs to be identified to gain access into an area.
His/Her fingerprint is scanned again. The system turns the fingerprint into a code. The code is compared with the other codes in the database. Look, the new code matches the code of a guy. The person must be Guy! Hence Guy is identified and allowed into the area.


The various Biometrics methodologies available now or should be available for the near future is the following:

1. Fingerprint Recognition.

Fingerprints have long been used as means of recognition. Current methods of fingerprints will, likely to be replaced by finger imaging, a technology that involves physically placing a finger on a small optical scanner. This “live” fingerprint is electronically read and converted into a unique byte code stored in a database which can be compared to other finger images for identification purposes.

A major advantage of finger imaging is the long time use of the finger print and its wide acceptance by the public and law enforcement communities as a reliable means of human recognition. Disadvantages of finger imaging includes the need for physical contact with the optical scanner, the possibility of poor quality images due to residue on the finger such as dirt and body oils as well as eroded fingerprints from scrapes, years of heavy labor, or mutilation.

2. Retinal Scanning
Retinal scanning involves an electronic scan of the retina – the innermost layer of the wall of the eyeball. By emitting a beam of incandescent light that bounces off the person’s retina and returns to the scanner, a retinal scanning system quickly maps the eye’s blood vessels pattern and records it into an easily retrievable digitized database. Since this pattern is unique in each person, identification can be precise.

3) Iris Scanning

Iris recognition uses the iris-the colored circle that surrounds the pupil of the eye-as the physical characteristics to be measured. The pattern of the iris is complex and unique in each person. Using standard video technology, its features can be quickly recorded from about nine inches away, thus eliminating the need for invasive physical contact. Software captures the identifying information from the iris and stores it in a 256 byte code.

Advantage of Iris recognition is that it stands out as perhaps the most “Hygienic” of the biometric technologies in that no part of the user’s body has to touch anything to operate the system. Disadvantages of iris recognition include problems of user acceptance, the relative expense of the system as compared to other biometric technologies, and the relative memory intensive storage requirements.

4. Hand Geometry.

Hand Geometry utilizes a three dimensional record of length, width and height of the hand and /or fingers. The subject places a hand in an optical scanner, measurements are taken, and the results are converted into byte code. In effect a digital map of the outline of the person’s hand is created.

Advantage of hand geometry is that it requires very little computer storage space as the memory requirements are limited and it is very user friendly. Disadvantages include the lack of uniqueness of hand geometry as compared to other biometrics. Also an injury to hand can cause the measurements to change, resulting in recognition problems.

5. Signature recognition

Signature recognition, or signature dynamics, uses computer technology to record components of an individual’s signature such as pen/stylus speed, pressure, direction in signature and the points at which the pen is lifted from the paper. These behavioural patterns are captured through a specially designed pen and compared with a template of process patterns.

Disadvantage of signature recognition include problems of long-term reliability, the lack of accuracy and cost.

6. Voice Recognition

Voice recognition involves taking the acoustic signal of person’s voice and converting it into a unique digital code which can be the stored in a template. In practical terms, the user would first enroll in the voice recognition system by speaking an agreed-upon phrase. For future recognition, the exact same phrase is spoken and the signal is analysed by the voice recognition system. Voice recognition systems are extremely well suited for verifying user access over a telephone.

Disadvantages of this biometric are that, not only is a fairly large byte code required, but people’s voices can change (for e.g.: when they are sick or in extreme emotional states). Also, phrases can be misspoken and background noises can interfere with the system

There are other biometric methodologies such as face recognition, vein measurement, keyboard dynamics and chemical odor analysis. These methodologies are currently under development. Of all these biological methodologies listed, only retinal scanning, iris scanning and finger imaging are currently considered truly consistent and unique. As such these three physical characteristics provide the greatest reliability and accuracy for biometrics.


There are all manner of fascinating biometric applications already in use. To fathom the possibilities, here are some intriguing examples.

Airport Security

Passenger’s facial images are recorded on camera and encoded on boarding passes and baggage tags at Malaysia’s Kula Lumpur airport. Off goes your luggage, you hit snack bar and when you are ready to hop on the plane the system scans your face to verify you are who you say you are.

Computer Security

Instead of replacing the user name/password log-in system, keystroke dynamics technology measures typing rhythm-the length of time you hold down each key, plus the time you take to move between keys. Then when you type in your user name and password, the software compares your typing rhythm with your profile.

ATM Machine Use

Most of the leading banks have been experimenting with biometrics for ATM machine use and as a general means of combating card fraud. Customers of Nationwide Building Society in England may get their money through the use of biometric methodologies. The financial institution has piloted an iris recognition system at ATMs and the counter of one of its branches. A camera takes a digital record of each user’s iris, which is coloured portion of the eye. The iris print is stored in a database and is used to verify identity during transactions.

Other Applications

Biometrics technology is being considered for a number of other applications. Law enforcement agencies would benefit from biometrics because people would no longer be able to hide their true identities. Governments could use biometrics to replace driving licenses, social security cards, welfare registration, and current electoral polling methods. Other popular applications include physical access control to restricted areas along with most other types of security systems. It is quite easy to see the many possibilities for biometrics technology


Several countries, including Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand, have witnessed public disquiet over identification schemes,. Some of the fears that have been cited include:

· That people will be de-humanized by being reduced to codes.
· That the system will enhance the power over individuals of particular organization and state.
· That the society is becoming driven by technology assisted bureaucracy, rather than by elected Government.

Privacy Issues

Medical Information

Biometrics scanning, whether based on the iris or finger image or other biometrics may prompt a variety of legal and policy concerns. Specifically, privacy concerns may be implicated because inn addition to the identification data, captured information about a person’s health and medical history may also be incidentally obtained. For e.g., through an examination of the retina or iris, an expert can determine that a patient may be suffering from common afflictions like diabetics arteriosclerosis, and hypertension.

Individuals with Special Needs

One topic which is rarely discussed in relation to biometrics is that of special needs of individuals. What consideration will be afforded to those who are unable to use such technology as the result of missing hands, limbs, or eyes? Certainly this is an issue of the technology which cannot be overlooked any longer by the industry.


Government will continue to be a hot market for biometric security, but experts see huge potential in the financial community and the medical industry. The security issues that haunt corporate IT and ecommerce make them obvious markets for biometric too.

The level of interest the government is giving to biometrics today helps the importance it foresees the role this technology will pay in the future.

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