Whats Under the Hood

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2001-11-19 Print this article Print

Whats Under the Hood

The authenticam consists of three parts: the camera itself, PrivateID iris scanning technology from Iridian Technologies Inc. and I/O Software Inc.s SecureSuite of security applications. The software portions are loosely integrated, and the camera hardware doubles as a Web camera that can be used as a video capture device thats compatible with any standards-based videoconferencing application.

The most technically significant part of the Authenticam is, of course, the iris recognition technology. The PrivateID software takes four images of a users iris during the enrollment process.

Patterns on the human iris are far more complex than fingerprints and facial patterns. The false-acceptance rate for iris recognition systems is 1 in 1.2 million, statistically better than the average fingerprint recognition system. However, since any biometric device can be coupled with a challenge response system that makes it statistically impossible to break into a system, the false- acceptance-rate advantage isnt critical.

The real benefit of iris recognition is in the false-rejection rate, a measure of authenticated users who are rejected. Fingerprint scanners have a 3 percent false-rejection rate, whereas iris scanning systems boast rates at the 0 percent level.

Iris scanning is more intrusive and requires users to gaze into a camera lens for about 2 seconds. In tests, the Authenticam recognized and authenticated iris patterns in about a second from a distance of about 18 to 24 inches, but this might still be a put-off to some users.

There are also limitations: Every user must be enrolled, each desktop requiring security must be Windows-based and have a Web camera, and things such as dirty glasses and bad lighting can slow authentication. These limitations make the Authenticam usable only on workstations for which administrators need the most intense protection.

The Authenticam is packaged to secure individual workstations, and installation was fairly simple. We set up an Authenticam on a Windows 2000 system with 512MB of RAM and a 1GHz processor. Panasonic recommends a Pentium-class 333MHz or greater system running Windows 98, Windows ME or Windows 2000, with at least 64MB of RAM.

The camera plugs into a Universal Serial Bus port, and the software and drivers should be loaded before installation of the hardware.

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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