Effective biometrics requires art and science

Biometrics is the art and science of using a measurable and preferably unique biological characteristic to identify people.

There are two main ways to use biometrics. The oldest and best known is for verifying the identities of known persons. This also is the easiest use, especially in agency environments, because users register their physical identifiers, the databases are relatively small, and people can be required to accept a relatively invasive process.

The other use for biometrics is to identify strangers, such as people wanted by law enforcement or the Homeland Security Department.

Most biometric authentication systems use either hand geometry or fingerprint matching, both at the forefront of biometrics.

Hand geometry is the most common access-control technology but isn't suitable for most network authentication. It's probably the oldest biometric access system in use, because it is easy to build sensors to measure large features.

Fingerprint recognition is more difficult for several reasons, including the tiny size and low contrast of the print ridges. Fingerprint systems usually are used for desktop and notebook PCs and network authentication.

For more information, check out Government Computer News' Web page devoted just to biometrics, www.gcn.com/biometrics.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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