Kearn's column: Psst ... just one word

In the 1967 movie, "The Graduate," Mr. McGuire (played by Walter Brooke) takes Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) aside and has the following conversation:

McGuire: I just want to say one word to you ... just one word.

Braddock: Yes, sir.

McGuire: Are you listening?

Braddock: Yes, sir, I am.

McGuire: ... Plastics.

Today, I want to take all of the network managers aside and say one word to them - are you listening? - biometrics. Fingerprint, retina, voice and face - these are the network access tools of the not-so-distant future. While these are hardly new technologies, up until now each vendor has gone its own way. Authentication software has to be written for each operating system and hardware platform. But back in April, Compaq, IBM, Identicator Technology, Microsoft, Miros and Novell formed a consortium to help develop standards for biometric identification and authentication of PC users. The BioAPI Consortium plans to provide standardised Application Programming Interfaces (API) that can be incorporated into operating systems and application software.

Although work on Biometrics has been going on for 10 years, none of the major operating system or PC vendors had come out with a product simply because there was no standardisation. But recently we've seen Novell award a prize for best Novell Directory Services application to Mission Data Systems for that company's SentriNET user authentication system, which uses fingerprint recognition. And just a couple of weeks ago, Compaq announced a fingerprint reader, Compaq Fingerprint Identification Technology, which will sell for less than US$100.

Fingerprint reading is just the start, however. In talking to Hal Jennings of Biometric Access Corp. (www.biometricaccess.com) and Joe Burke at Miros (www.miros.com), both emphasised that facial recognition was the future for biometric access and authentication.

And then there's voice. A number of companies (including IBM) are shipping voice recognition software. It's not too hard to imagine that, sometime soon, we'll see background authentication of voice for each command spoken to the computer. Even Star Trek didn't have that.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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