University opts for biometric security

Once relegated to the likes of sci-fi and futuristic movies, biometric technologies such as fingerprint scanning is increasingly finding its way into corporate Australia.

Western Australia's Edith Cowan University is one such example. It recently installed biometric devices to secure the PCs controlling access to campus buildings.

Frazer Holmes, security systems administrator for the university, said the fingerprint scanning technology was installed on six access control PCs (two at each of university's campuses), about four months ago.

Holmes said the university decided to install this technology as it was upgrading the access control to a new system, on a NT4 platform, and thought it would be a good idea to upgrade the security as well.

"Some of the access control computers are not in situations where they are as secure as they can be. We didn't want anyone who wasn't authorised to be able to log onto the computers. Password authentication is not that secure."

At present about 22 people (security personnel and management) have authorised access to the PCs. "Reaction from users has been very positive, I think they believe it shows that the university is taking security seriously."

While the technology wasn't as expensive as expected, Holmes said a lot of units trialed had a high failure rate.

"We found if the lens get dirty on a device, it won't work. It meant that if a security person's hand was not clean, that person's hand would scan OK, but the device would not work for the next person as the lens would be dirty."

He said the university chose the U.are.U Pro Workstation Package from DigitalPersona, even though it was not the cheapest, because it had a lower error rate.

With regards to installation, Holmes said the process was not a "big drain" on IT resources, considering he is the only IT person within the university's security department.

"For me, it has meant that things are nice and easy with regards to log ons. It hasn't made a drastic change to my workload.

"The access control PCs use an existing infrastructure but are run on a VLAN (virtual LAN) (with one server looking after the PCs exclusively), so putting the biometric devices on did not impede the network at all and was not time consuming." Holmes said he went to each campus and entered the details of each authorised person.

"You need to do four identical scans for the image to be stored. If there is any deviation the scanning is not successful."

And for those of you concerned about what would happen if someone's finger was cut off to attain access rights, the heinous act would fail, because the scanner also registers body temperature as one of the activating elements. But the injured person could still gain access as Holmes said scans of two fingers are stored on the system, "so if one finger is cut off, the person could still use their other finger to log on."

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