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Compaq to launch fingerprint ID module for PCs

July 1, 1998
Web posted at: 12:15 AM EDT

by Kristi Essick

Compaq's fingerprint indentification reader is about half the size of a regular mouse   

(IDG) -- Compaq has released a small hardware module for use with desktop and notebook PCs that will allow users to log onto Windows-based machines using a scan of their fingerprint.

The device will come with software jointly developed by Compaq and Indenticator Technologies, said David Hall, strategic product manager for Compaq's PC products group in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Compaq joined up with several software and hardware vendors, including Microsoft and IBM, in April to form the BioAPI Consortium in order to develop standard biometric products and technologies, Hall said.

Identicator, which was the main partner on the project, has developed fingerprint identification software that is currently used in gateways in prisons and high-security office buildings. However, until Compaq and Identicator teamed up, the company had not developed this software for use in PCs, Hall said. Over the last 18 months, the two companies have worked together to rebuild the software for a networked PC environment, he said.

The fingerprint scanning device, which is about half the size of an ordinary mouse, works in conjunction with the software. Users first register their fingerprints by following the steps in a series of dialogue boxes, scanning their fingerprint and entering their existing network log-on passwords, Hall said.

The fingerprint stands in the place of the existing password, but does not replace it entirely. Instead, a certain fingerprint is tied to a specific password on the company's server (or on the computer's hard drive if the fingerprint device is used to log onto a stand-alone PC.) However, the actual fingerprint is not stored anywhere. What is stored is a series of "minutiae points" that are unique to the fingerprint, but which don't allow it to be recognized. In some countries, Hall explained, it is illegal to store people's fingerprints on a computer of any kind.

Once the fingerprint is scanned and attributed to a certain password, users can use their fingerprints to log onto the network or onto their PC. The reason a password must be retained is that Windows relies on a password system in identifying users on a network, Hall said. When the user scans his or her fingerprint, the password is functioning in the background, he explained.

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The idea behind the Compaq fingerprint reader is to make networks more secure, Hall said. Passwords can easily be forgotten and/or shared among many users, while a fingerprint is unique to each user. In addition to the increased security factor, Compaq thinks the device will save companies money since network administrators won't have to spend hours reassigning lost passwords.

Compaq is targeting the fingerprint reader at users in high-security fields, such as medicine and finance, but also to regular companies that are concerned about secure access to their networks, Hall said.

By next year, Compaq may integrate the reader into notebook computers so that people can use their fingerprints to switch on their machines, Hall said. This way, a laptop could only be used by the person whose fingerprint was registered beforehand. Right now, the device connects to the desktop or laptop through the parallel port.

The device and software will retail for $99 and will be available in mid-August worldwide, Hall said. It works with any PC running Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0, and any server running NT Server 4.0; they don't have to be Compaq machines. In the third quarter, Compaq expects to support Windows 98 PCs, as well as servers running Novell Inc. software, Hall said.

Looking forward, Compaq plans to continue developing more biometric technologies via its partnerships in the BioAPI consortium, including systems that can recognize users by their irises or even their body odor, Hall said. Whatever technologies Compaq comes up with, the company is hoping to deploy the systems or software at high volumes and low costs, he said. By being first to market with inexpensive biometric devices, and by working with the BioAPI forum to come up with standards, Compaq hopes to become a leader in this area, Hall said.

Don't forget to shower, your Deskpro may soon be sniffing you each morning.

Kristi Essick is a correspondent in the London Bureau of the IDG News Service.

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