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Security is now in the palm of your hand

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A.T.M.’s in Japan require a palm print to access money, while the new iPhone available since September allows you to use a fingerprint sensor. Barclays in London requires a voice print. It is the age of biometrics and additional security for you in an age of high tech cybercrime, reports the N.Y. Times today.

These types of security systems have long been the province of border control, military surveillance and national intelligence. Now they are rapidly moving into the consumer mainstream to unlock laptops and smartphones or as a supplement to passwords at banks, hospitals and libraries.

But the technology also comes with a host of troublesome issues if it is abused or misused.

Here is where the stakes become high and problematic. Bruce Schneier, a security expert and author of ‘Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive,’ states 'if someone steals your password, you can change it. But if someone steals your thumbprint, you can’t get a new thumb. The failure modes are very different and more involved.'

A new Fujitsu laptop, the Celsius H730, released recently in Japan, can be ordered with a choice of biometrics: a fingerprint sensor or, for an additional $116, a palm scanner instead. To unlock the computer, you hold your palm over the sensor and the software checks your vein pattern to make sure you’re the authorized user, explains, Joseph Dean, a Fujitsu spokesman.

Biometric devices can identify vein patterns in the finger, the back of the hand or the palm, according to Anil K. Jain, a professor and expert in biometrics at Michigan State University. The technology works quite well, he adds that, ‘it’s difficult to forge because the vascular patterns are inside the body.’ The veins are revealed by a harmless infrared light.

Identifying features include the thickness of the veins, and the angles and locations where they intersect. Some systems combine fingerprints and finger vein patterns according to professor Jain.

A different biometric, voice printing, is offered by Nuance Communications to many customers, including Barclays. The voice print is based on about 100 characteristics, including pitch and accent, offers Brett Beranek, a manager at Nuance.

Mr. Beranek adds that even if a voiceprint were stolen, it is not the voice that is recorded but the characteristics. So security remains for the user.

'Fingerprint sensing will be the most popular biometric identifier for the next few years,' said Alan Goode, author of a recent report on the mobile biometric security market and founder of Goode Intelligence in London.

Ram Ravi, an analyst who studies the global use of biometrics for Frost & Sullivan indicates that fingerprints would be the leading biometric for the next few years. He also includes the growing market of palm reading and the next biometric is Iris-and facial-identification biometrics.

Mr. Schneier cautions that a central data base is where the security breech occurs. If the processing occurs entirely on the device then security can be maintained. Apple has stated that all biometric processing on its iPhone occurs directly on the phone.

Security will become increasingly more aggressive after card heists like Target occur and cause consumers to seek a multitude of security measures.

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