Identity-recognition systems gaining a foothold

Face-recognition is one of a group of biometrics technologies that also includes fingerprints, hand geometry and iris, signature, and voice patterns.New security procedures at the 2001 Super Bowl, held in Tampa, Fla., reached the headlines after it was disclosed that …

Face-recognition is one of a group of biometrics technologies that also includes fingerprints, hand geometry and iris, signature, and voice patterns.New security procedures at the 2001 Super Bowl, held in Tampa, Fla., reached the headlines after it was disclosed that equipment made by Visionics, a U.S. company, was being used to pick out people in the crowd with criminal records.

Human rights groups protested against privacy violations after the images of hundreds of faces were stored in police databases using the technology, part of a larger category known as biometrics.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, opposition to these kinds of screening systems has lessened as governments, airports, aviation security companies and other entities have scrambled to find new ways to screen for potential terrorists and thwart crime and fraud.

Biometric identification technologies are not new. They are used to identify people based on their physical or behavioral characteristics, including facial structure, fingerprints, iris patterns, hand geometry, and signature and voice patterns that are unique to each individual.

Because of its security situation, Israel has been in the forefront of implementing these technologies. Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport has introduced a biometric handprint identification system for frequent flyers and other trusted passengers. After registering their handprints, which is supposed to take only a few seconds, these passengers can skip passport control and go directly to the location of hand-baggage checks, enabling officials to devote more time to less-well-known passengers.

The system includes 21 automatic inspection kiosks throughout the airport, each equipped with a “hand key” reader, which measures the sizes and shapes of hands. The collected data on a person’s hand is compared with a template stored in the main system. If there is a match, the person’s identity is confirmed.

SentryCom, based in Haifa, is a startup that specializes in biometrics voice authentication. According to Business Development Director Shaul Mazor, the company’s Voice Shield and Voice Proof products are aimed at financial institutions and network security for mid-to-large companies. The products match the voices in phone conversations with a voice pattern stored in a central computer.

“Voice verification is less controversial than other forms of biometrics,” Mazor said. “There is no scanning of any organ involved. We take a voice print and only extract the crucial data necessary.”

There is a growing market for speaker verification, said U.S.-based biometrics expert Dr. Judith Markowitz.

“The most widely used device is the telephone,” she said, citing potential markets as voice portals and call centers, law enforcement, financial services, data network security and telecom carriers.

However, Markowitz said, voice verification can’t screen out tape-recorded voices and there has been a high level of errors when voices of identical twins have been used in experiments.

But Mazor said Voice Shield is sufficiently error-free to be of use to financial institutions.

“Our product enables various tiers of verification for online users wishing to buy and sell shares, for example. When they reach the level where they wish to conduct financial transactions, a higher level of authentication is necessary,” he said. “What could be easier than voice? We use it all the time. The only tools needed to deploy our application are a microphone or telephone, and everyone has those too.”

A second application developed by the three-year-old SentryCom is intended as a backup means of identity verification for users in large organizations who forget the passwords they need to gain entry to networks.

“System administrators take a great deal of time, resources and energy restoring passwords. Using Voice Proof, users can pick up a landline or mobile phone and will be given a new password based on voice verification,” Mazor said.

SentryCom is now targeting its marketing to the United States and Europe, while advertising that its products can integrate easily with other security applications.

“At airports, one method of biometrics is not sufficient. You need one at check in, another at boarding and so on. Voice verification is one solution that can be combined with others,” Mazor said.

Israel’s Bank Hapoalim is using signature-verification products developed by Israel-based WonderNet to secure financial transactions for its customers, said Alex Herman, the startup’s vice president for sales and business development.

WonderNet, is based at Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha and has a marketing arm in Japan and other distribution centers in Europe.

WonderNet’s technology passed a stringent examination by Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was defined as a state-of-the-art technology. The Israel Defense Force is also involved in a project using the biometric signature system.

“People’s signatures change over the years and are subject to pressure, speed and rhythm. It’s how you sign your name, not the overall pattern that matters,” Herman said. “Each signature differs from the previous one. Using algorithms, our technology analyzes these parameters and works on all handwriting.”

Herman said he’s seen a change in security needs since Sept. 11, which biometric solutions aim to partially satisfy.

“Unfortunately, there is no killer application in biometrics. Fingerprint technology is a stand-alone application. Iris recognition is expensive. Facial recognition has not achieved a required level of accuracy…”