Microsoft Adds Biometrics to Its Technology Stable

SAN MATEO (05/02/2000) - Microsoft Corp. announced the acquisition of I/O Software Inc.'s Biometric API (BAPI) technology and SecureSuite authentication technology as a means of adding biometric user-recognition capabilities to future versions of Windows.

By bringing biometrics' physical characteristic authentication technology to the PC realm, Windows users could log on to their desktop computers or conduct secure e-commerce transactions using fingerprint, iris pattern, or voice recognition features to confirm their identities, rather than passwords, said Shannon Boettcher, lead product manager for Microsoft Windows 2000 server.

Boettcher would not say when a commercial version of the biometrics-laden Windows program would be available. He did say it is expected to contain a biometrics platform with integration features to seamlessly connect various biometric vendor products to the Operating System.

"Wherever you would see a password [appear], biometrics would be an option for that," Boettcher said. "Customers will determine what their needs are and what types of biometrics works the best for them. We're building the platform to enable [products] to plug in."

Biometrics works by matching or verifying a person's unique physical traits -- including iris, fingerprint, or voice patterns -- with stored data. Because it is difficult for biometrics information to be lost, stolen, or shared with others, the security technology could be ready to stake a name for itself in the competitive security landscape, said Abner Germanow, research manager of Internet Security at IDC, in Framingham, Massachusetts.

However, Germanow said that the true appeal of deploying biometrics in Windows is that the technology could go a long way toward easing administrative headaches associated with administering multiple users and passwords on corporate help desks.

"Passwords just don't work. They don't scale, they're not secure, they cause a lot of problems for help desks," Germanow said. "[Biometrics] is actually more of a convenience issue than a security issue, although security is a part of it."

For Windows users, the BAPI and SecureSuite will provide authentication services, biometric data storage, and a common user interface for biometric-enabled applications. I/O software currently features products for Windows 95, 98 and Windows NT 4.0. Products for Windows 2000 are expected this summer.

Boettcher said the Microsoft and I/O Software collaboration will also include the incorporation of biometrics authentication into Windows-based applications and a stronger promotion of Biometrics usage in business.

Germanow agreed that Microsoft's considerable name-brand clout will lend some credence to a Biometrics security environment that is often still plagued by a perception by users of being a fantastic "James Bond" technology.

"The fact that you have a very major player in the industry saying, 'Yeah, we think there's a future for using this stuff.' That's a big validation for [biometrics vendors]," Germanow said.

Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Washington, is at www.microsoft.com. I/O Software Inc., in Riverside, California, is at www.iosoftware.com.

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