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Biometrics Beyond Fingerprints And Iris Scans

There are more exotic ways to confirm identity beyond the usual suspects, including DNA profiling and ear recognition.
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Biometrics For The Rest Of Us

Fingerprint, palm, iris, and retina scans are familiar, as are face and voice recognition technology. But have you heard of these biometric options?

DNA profiling: DNA, the nucleic acid in nearly all living organisms that carries genetic information, is considered the ultimate biometric measurement. It produces proof-positive identification of a person, except in the case of identical twins. However, unlike other biometrics it compares actual samples rather than templates generated from samples. Its main drawback is that its comparisons can't be made in real time, so for now its use is limited to forensic applications. Although there will no doubt be advances in DNA capture and analysis, the technology is unlikely to be suitable for anything other than highly secure government environments.

Ear recognition: Human ears are unique in size, shape, and structure. Obtaining data on users' ears is very similar to obtaining it for faces, but this form of biometrics will probably never take hold in a big way, as face recognition will always be more palatable and intuitive for users.

Gesture recognition: Every person has unique mannerisms and body language. Analysis of body movements such as gait can be used to identify people from a distance. Gait is hard to disguise because a person's musculature limits the variation of motion. This data can be obtained unobtrusively as measuring it doesn't require personal contact.

Gesture recognition can provide continuous authentication, ensuring that only authorized people are in restricted areas. But a walking person generates lots of data, so this technology requires additional resources to store and analyze the data in real time. In addition, cameras must be set to capture more than just faces. This technology is suitable for organizations that must be kept highly secure on a 24/7 basis.

Typing and mouse recognition: Keystroke length, typing speed, error patterns, and mouse movements all can be used to create a unique template that distinguishes one person's typing from another's. These characteristics can be continuously validated against a stored template as a person works in a system. This additional form of authentication will likely become the norm with infrastructures that support large numbers of users, such as customer support desks that regularly access sensitive data.

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Michael Cobb is founder and managing director of CobWeb Applications, a consulting firm that helps companies secure their IT infrastructures. Write to us at [email protected].

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