ISW Security Papers Contest
 
Biometrics - The Wave of the Future? by Gary Daniel on 30/05/06

Will biometrics be a factor in our future? Of course it will, at least to the extent that it has been in our past history. We as citizens must decide upon the best methods to use and the best way to utilize this technology. Biometrics can be defined in several ways such as the study of measurable biological characteristics. In reference to Information Security it specifically applies to the automated use of physiological or behavioral characteristics to determine or verify identity.

Variations of biometrics have been in use for a long, long time now. One of the earliest examples of a form of biometrics could be considered to be the cave paintings where there is presumably a signature indicated by the outline of a human hand by some of the paintings. In China, biometrics were used in the 14th century to identify children to merchants, the merchants would take ink and make an impression of the child’s hand print and footprint in order to distinguish among them. Facial recognition has been one of the most used biometrics throughout history. These early examples were the beginning of what we now term biometrics, when broken down to the Greek meanings, bio meaning “life” and metric being a “measurement”. Other forms of biometrics were utilized throughout history to include the fingerprint technique used to identify criminals which is still in widespread use today. The fingerprint method has been used successfully in law enforcement now for many years as it is a very accurate and reliable method to determine an individuals’ identity but relies on the fact that the fingerprints had to already be on file in order to provide a match. A system known as the anthropometric system was developed by a French police desk clerk named Alphonse Bertillon in 1883 to identify criminals by measuring the head and body lengths and widths (http://www.answers.com/topic/biometrics ). This method was utilized until itwas discovered that there were too many inaccuracies with the methods utilized to measure and the fact that the measurements changed over time thereby not making them a unique and accurate enough symbol to provide positive identification. Biometrics are not really new technology but the manner in which we can now utilize these unique features with the aid of computers is new.

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