Are the Password's Days Numbered?

NEW YORK (06/28/2000) - In the future, you'll have no need to remember passwords or PIN numbers. That's the vision presented by a handful of companies strutting their stuff in PC Expo's Biometropolis section.

For one solution to the password mess, look no further than your fingertips.

Fingerprint authentication is an idea that has been around for years, but it is becoming cheaper and easier to implement fingertip scanning on PCs.

Ethentica on Tuesday introduced its Ethenticator MS 3000, a US$199 PC Card-based touch verification system. Plug this card into an empty Type II slot, load up the software, and it's James Bond time. Your fingerprint can log you into Windows, open password-protected Microsoft Office documents, and access password protected Web sites.

DigitalPersona Inc. is peddling a similar solution. Encouraging attendees to "give their computer the finger," the company is demonstrating the $149 U.are.U Pro, a touch verification device that connects to the USB port. Bundled software allows touch-verified log-ins, Web surfing, and screensaver deactivation.

AuthenTec, the third fingerprint player at Expo, stands apart from other touch verification companies. Rather than taking an image of a finger's surface, as conventional units do, the AuthenTec technology passes a small electric current through the user's fingertip, creating a map of the tissue a few layers beneath the skin's surface. This approach allows authentication for people whose finger surfaces are damaged or otherwise unreadable--a group that comprises between ten and twenty percent of the population, according to AuthenTec's Kurt Kyvic.

The company announced a licensing agreement with BioLink, which will bring AuthenTec's technology to consumers in months to come.

Beyond Your Fingertips

Your fingers aren't the only game in town when it comes to biometric authentication. Veritel introduced its VoiceCheck technology, which allows access to a secure Web site following voice verification. The technology is designed to be platform-independent; though the demonstration used a PC as the target device, Veritel's solution could also be implemented on devices like cell phones.

PINs are probably most widely-used on ATM machines. But in the Biometropolis, those disappear as well, with Viisage's face recognition software.

The Viisage booth has a dummy ATM. Show attendees were asked to sit down and have their picture taken. An image of their face was then fed to the FacePIN system and associated with a test ATM card. When they walked up, inserted their card, and stared at a camera for a fraction of a second, the ATM responded by stating their name.

Implementations of this technology will hit the streets later this year, says Viisage's Michael Mazzu.

And there is one company out to extend the life of the lowly password. Net Nanny, best known for its parental control software, is demonstrating its BioPassword LogOn for Windows NT package, which increases the security of log-in passwords by noting your typing rhythm. (Again, this approach to boosting security has been around for years.)In a demonstration, I was asked to enter a username and password combination ten times, so the system could get a sense of how I normally enter these bits of information. After doing so, I could easily enter my user information and log in to the system, but others around me-who knew both my username and my password-could not. Net Nanny plans to announce a ship date for BioPassword once field testing is complete.

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