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Fingerprint Technology: Is it too Big Brother-ish?
December 1st 2011 -

Iíve watched CSI and NCIS on television and I think I know most peopleís first impression regarding the subject of fingerprint technology. It conjures up images weíve seen on television of high-tech command centers containing vast databases of the fingerprints of all the known criminals and then a powerful computer program that rapidly scans an acquired fingerprint to match it to one of those on file. The rapid scanning is displayed on large wall-sized displays as eager law enforcement agents wait for their suspectís identity to be confirmed so they can move on to the more exciting scenes of car chases and shootouts. Impressive Hollywood imagery, but a little more advanced than that available to the average business owner.

In reality, the fingerprint technology installed in most of corporate America today is little more than a personal identification number, albeit a 256-digit number. The most common devices in use for home security, portable computer password protection, campus access control and yes even indoor tanning salons rely on a simple yet foolproof identity matching algorithm to match the presented scan with the one on file. It does not store an image of the fingerprint but rather makes up a map of the unique points and contours that make up an individualís fingerprint, then stores these points as a numeric value. The importance of this method is that the numbers cannot be used to reconstruct or reconstitute a fingerprint; therefore nothing stored is of value except to verify the identity of the individual who was also present when the original scan was taken.

The applications for this method of encryption and verification are still pretty impressive even without its crime-fighting implications. For the client interface, this technology provides your customer with the peace of mind that their account is secure from abuse and fraud. This is also the same peace of mind it provides to the business owner that multiple people are not utilizing the same account, leading to lost revenue, increased liability and potentially penalization by regulatory agencies. For the employee interface, this technology can be used to prevent fraud at the time clock and can be coupled with password technology to increase the level of security present when confronting access rights to applications and networks.

The current technology is not without its limitations or mistaken expectations. For example, the very presence of the fingerprint scanning device facing the customer can present an immediate negative impression. I always recommend leaving the device just out of view and moving it into position when prompted to do so and after taking a moment to explain the purpose and scope of the fingerprint utilization. Customers donít jump to the wrong conclusions that way. Itís also important to note that as consistent as the technology has become, it is still not 100% effective for every customer. The factors include the customerís occupation, environmental factors, and even simple failure to clean the device appropriately.

There are three currencies in the Security Game: what you have, what you know and who you are. What you have in your possession can be lost, shared, stolen or duplicated. What you know can also be shared or stolen, either with or without your consent. Who you are is the only currency that to date is still virtually theft-resistant and even that has become a hotly contested fact in these modern times. It is important to know what the risk factors are and how you are protecting yourself and your business interests using the best practices and technology available today, keeping a watchful eye on what the future holds.

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