MS Buys Firm to Add Biometric Hooks

FRAMINGHAM (05/05/2000) - Microsoft Corp.'s purchase this week of biometric authentication technology from I/O Software Inc. should drive quicker user acceptance of biometric security tools, analysts said.

Microsoft acquired I/O Software's Biometric Application Programming Interface (BAPI) technology and its SecureSuite authentication software for an undisclosed sum. Riverside, California-based I/O Software will continue to offer BAPI and SecureSuite as add-on products for Windows platforms until Microsoft integrates the technology into Windows. No timetable was announced for the integration.

BAPI offers a way for application programs to talk to biometric devices. There are similar interfaces in Windows for printers, video cards and sound cards.

SecureSuite comprises biometric data management, device management and user interface software. Integrating these technologies into future versions of Windows will give biometric vendors a standard platform to develop for, said Shanen Boettcher, a Microsoft project manager.

Several vendors, including American Biometric Co. in Ottawa, Iriscan Inc. in Marlton, New Jersey, and VeriVoice Inc. in Princeton, New Jersey, are already selling biometric products as add-on components to Windows.

But having a standard interface at the operating-system level will make it easier for those products to work with Windows, Boettcher said.

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Microsoft's involvement in biometrics "will give IT directors a heightened sense of comfort in using the technology," said Samir Nanavati, an analyst at International Biometric Group, a New York-based consultancy.

"It's good to know Microsoft will be playing in this arena," agreed Frank Annerino, director of corporate information security at insurance brokerage Aon Corp. in Chicago. "From time to time, we have been concerned about the staying power of some of the smaller companies [in biometrics]."

Aon has considered implementing biometric systems such as fingerprinting and voice recognition and is likely to start piloting such technology within the next year.

Biometric authentication involves verifying a person's identity by comparing physical characteristics - such as fingerprints - with stored data. The approach is believed to be far more reliable and more secure than current authentication methods such as passwords, smart cards and personal identification numbers.

Biometric authentication devices include fingerprint scanners, iris scanners and voice verification systems.

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