FRAMINGHAM (05/02/2000) - Looking to add new security features to its operating system, Microsoft on Tuesday licensed biometric technology to integrate into future versions of Windows 2000.
The software giant licensed I/O Software's Biometric API (BAPI) and the biometrics authentication software found in its SecureSuite products.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Microsoft intends to include the technology in the next version of Win 2000 as an alternative authentication mechanism to standard passwords and for use in conjunction with Kerberos security currently available in the operating system.
Microsoft plans to offer a biometrics platform consisting of a development environment and interfaces for hardware, applications and management. The company also plans to release a software developers' kit for building biometric-enabled applications.
"We see a lot of applications for such things as electronic commerce, to support non-repudiation, and as a way to cut costs of password management," says Shanen Boettcher, product manager for Win 2000. "It's also much more convenient for end users."
Biometrics uses a person's physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, retinal pattern or voice, to authenticate use of a desktop or server. The authentication mechanism, while highly secure, is not widely used due to a lack of standard interfaces.
Biometrics requires hardware to perform the scan and software to match the scan to stored data.
For the Windows platform, BAPI will provide a "standard" software protocol and API for communication between software applications and biometric devices.
BAPI, developed in 1998 by I/O Software, includes a number of hardware interfaces, encryption and biometric algorithms. SecureSuite will add the software to support log on, capture and storage of biometric data and user interfaces.
The BAPI protocol is not currently a recognized industry standard, but I/O Software, and now Microsoft, are hoping it becomes a unifying force in an industry that is severely fragmented by incompatible hardware and software. The 35-member BioAPI Consortium also is developing a standard, but the group's work is focused on an application-layer API.
"To date, biometrics has been called a zero billion-dollar industry," says Tas Dienes, vice president and co-founder of I/O Software. "No one is buying anything [and] there is no universal standard, but now with Microsoft making the first move we think a lot of people will follow. Obviously this is good for us, but it also is a shot in the arm for the whole industry."
BAPI is designed to support embedded systems and servers as well as desktop workstations, and Microsoft says the technology could end up in any those places.
I/O Software, a private, 25-person, Riverside, California, company, says BAPI can be used to support a variety of applications, including e-commerce, financial transactions, e-mail encryption and digital signatures, file and database encryption and smart cards.
"There is no limit to where we see the application of this technology, but I don't know of any specific plans," Microsoft's Boettcher says. Microsoft plans to make the technology available as soon as possible, he says, although he would not confirm it will be part of the next release of Win 2000, code-named Whistler.