Biometrics are automated methods of recognizing a person based on a physiological or behavioral characteristic. Among the features measured are face, fingerprints, hand geometry, handwriting, iris, retinal, vein, and voice.
Biometric data are separate and distinct from personal information. Biometric templates cannot be reverse-engineered to recreate personal information and they cannot be stolen and used to access personal information.
Using a unique, physical attribute of your body, such as your fingerprint or iris, to effortlessly identify and verify that you are who you claim to be, is the best and easiest solution in the market today. That is the simple truth and power of Biometrics Technology today. Although biometric technology has been around for many years, modern advances in this emerging technology, coupled with big reductions in cost, now make biometrics readily available and affordable to consumers, small business owner, larger corporations and public sector agencies alike.
Fingerprint Authentication
Fingerprints are one of those bizarre twists of nature. Human beings happen to have built-in, easily accessible identity cards. You have a unique design, which represents you alone, literally at your fingertips. How did this happen?
People have tiny ridges of skin on their fingers because this particular adaptation was extremely advantageous to the ancestors of the human species. The pattern of ridges and "valleys" on fingers make it easier for the hands to grip things, in the same way a rubber tread pattern helps a tire grip the road.
So, in addition to the countless things that go into deciding your genetic make-up in the first place, there are innumerable environmental factors influencing the formation of the fingers. Just like the weather conditions that form clouds or the coastline of a beach, the entire development process is so chaotic that, in the entire course of human history, there is virtually no chance of the same exact pattern forming twice.
Consequently, fingerprints are a unique marker for a person, even an identical twin. And while two prints may look basically the same at a glance, a trained investigator or an advanced piece of software can pick out clear, defined differences.
This is the basic idea of fingerprint analysis, in both crime investigation and security. A fingerprint scanner's job is to take the place of a human analyst by collecting a print sample and comparing it to other samples on record.
How a Fingerprint Optical Scanner Works
A fingerprint scanner system has two basic jobs -- it needs to get an image of your finger, and it needs to determine whether the pattern of ridges and valleys in this image matches the pattern of ridges and valleys in pre-scanned images. There are a number of different ways to get an image of somebody's finger. The most common methods today are optical scanning.
The heart of an optical scanner is a charge coupled device (CCD), the same light sensor system used digital cameras and camcorders. A CCD is simply an array of light-sensitive diodes called photosites, which generate an electrical signal in response to light photons. Each photosite records a pixel, a tiny dot representing the light that hit that spot. Collectively, the light and dark pixels form an image of the scanned scene (a finger, for example). Typically, an analog to digital converter in the scanner system processes the analog electrical signal to generate a digital representation of this image.
The scanning process starts when you place your finger on a glass plate, and a CCD camera takes a picture. The scanner has its own light source, typically an array of light emitting diodes, to illuminate the ridges of the finger. The CCD system actually generates an inverted image of the finger, with darker areas representing more reflected light (the ridges of the finger) and lighter areas representing less reflected light (the valleys between the ridges).
Before comparing the print to stored data, the scanner processor makes sure the CCD has captured a clear image. It checks the average pixel darkness, or the overall values in a small sample, and rejects the scan if the overall image is too dark or too light. If the image is rejected, the scanner adjusts the exposure time to let in more or less light, and then tries the scan again.
If the darkness level is adequate, the scanner system goes on to check the image definition (how sharp the fingerprint scan is). The processor looks at several straight lines moving horizontally and vertically across the image. If the fingerprint image has good definition, a line running perpendicular to the ridges will be made up of alternating sections of very dark pixels and very light pixels. If the processor finds that the image is crisp and properly exposed, it proceeds to comparing the captured fingerprint with fingerprints on file.
Fingerprint scanner systems compare specific features of the fingerprint, generally known as minutiae. Typically, human and computer investigators concentrate on points where ridge lines end or where one ridge splits into two (bifurcations). Collectively, these and other distinctive features are sometimes called typica.
The scanner system software uses highly complex algorithms to recognize and analyze these minutiae. The basic idea is to measure the relative positions of minutiae, in the same sort of way you might recognize a part of the sky by the relative positions of stars. A simple way to think of it is to consider the shapes that various minutia form when you draw straight lines between them. If two prints have three ridge endings and two bifurcations, forming the same shape with the same dimensions, there's a high likelihood they're from the same print.
To get a match, the scanner system doesn't have to find the entire pattern of minutiae both in the sample and in the print on record, it simply has to find a sufficient number of minutiae patterns that the two prints have in common. The exact number varies according to the scanner programming.
Top Advantages of Fingerprint Authentication
There are several ways a security system can verify that somebody is an authorized user. Most systems are looking for one or more of the following:
  • What you have

  • Wath you know

  • Who you are

To get past a "what you have" system, you need some sort of "token," such as an identity card with a magnetic strip. A "what you know" system requires you to enter a password or PIN number. A "who you are" system is actually looking for physical evidence that you are who you say you are -- a specific fingerprint, voice or iris pattern.
"Who you are" systems like fingerprint scanners have a number of advantages over other systems. To name few:
  • Physical attributes are much harder to fake than identity cards.

  • You can't guess a fingerprint pattern like you can guess a password.

  • You can't misplace your fingerprint, irises or voice like you can misplace an access card.

  • You can't forget your fingerprints like you can forget a password.