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XML may bring biometrics into the mainstream


By Jon Surmacz

(IDG) -- Verifying that you really are who you say you are isn't like it used to be. An ID badge or password is no longer enough.

Consider the rising profile of biometrics, the practice of verifying one's identity based on a physiological or behavioral characteristic, such as fingerprints, handwriting or retinal scans (see "Face time," link below). Framingham, Massachusetts-based International Data Corporation says the worldwide biometrics technology market reached $118.8 million in 2000, and will increase over the next five years at a compound annual growth rate of 50 percent. INFOCENTER
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As more biometric devices come to market, however, the industry must grapple with how to format data so that it can be efficiently sent to and from different devices and shared among many applications. One way to do that is to use XML, an authoring language that allows programmers to describe data on the Web. XML is increasingly popular in B2B applications, and now it may be on its way to biometrics.

The Billerica, Massachusetts-based Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) recently announced that its members have formed a committee to provide XML standards for biometric data. The XML Common Biometric Format (XCBF) will be designed to work with the Common Biometric Exchange File Format (CBEFF) -- the current generic standard for biometric data. In January 2001, NIST, in concert with the National Security Agency, published its CBEFF guidelines.

"This is an extension of existing technology coupled with recent U.S. standards in biometrics coupled with extended existing technology to use XML markup," says Phillip H. Griffin, chair of the OASIS XCBF technical committee and president of Griffin Consulting. "We're opening up biometrics information to be transferred in the XML space."

XML standards will help incorporate biometric data into smart cards (see "Get smart," link below), radio frequency identification (see "McDonald's puts hot technology in consumers' hands," link below), and even cell phones, says Griffin. XML will enable these devices to access databases through the Web, which will make verification faster and more accurate. Griffin says XML standards could be ready within one year, but figuring out how to encrypt the data could delay the project.

Cathy Tilton, chairman of the BioAPI Consortium, says the coupling of BioAPI, CBEFF, XCBF and X9.84 will provide companies with better authentication and verification tools that can be used for everyday online transactions, not just high-tech airport scanners.

"People still think of biometrics as 'Star Wars' or 'James Bond' kind of stuff," Tilton says. "It's much more mundane than people think. It has uses at the desktop level. Standards drive the technology to become more of a commodity item."


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