Security experts have long predicted that personal identification technologies such facial recognition software would someday replace passwords in the common business setting, and one firm is betting that the availability of cheap, effective hardware, along with its software, is making such systems more practical today.
Known as Sensible Vision, the company introduced a new product dubbed FastAccess that promises to deliver facial recognition identification to any Windows PC for $99 per user, plus the cost of a $25 USB camera it sell as part of the package.
Used along with a tradition password, the company claims the system provides a system of active two-factor authentication that outperforms the ability of other applications such as portable USB storage devices.
Part of the beauty of its technology is that the system serves as a device lock-up tool once a user has logged on with his or her face and password, the company claims.
When a user steps away from their desktop the machine is automatically locked until the user sits down again, when it recognizes the persons presence and automatically logs the user back in.
That element of the technology is what the vendor believes will ultimately sell organizations such as hospitals and financial services companies on facial software, as it will protect against internal security breaches executed on devices shared between multiple workers, and allow those people to gain access to the machines they need to use with great flexibility.
"Passwords are weak because people share them, and because when someone steps away form their device, everything is still sitting there available unless they remember to lock it," said George Brostoff, chief executive of Sensible Vision.
"FastAccess also allows organizations to improve productivity by eliminating the need for knowledge of more complex security password or token systems; all you have to do is look in the camera."
While most people might doubt the ability of a low-end USB camera plugged into a PC to work consistently and effectively as a secure means of logging onto a corporate network, early testers of the program say it does work sufficiently well enough for them to recommend it.
Sensible Vision claims that its setup correctly identifies people in less than 2 seconds at least 75 percent of the time.
Dr. Lyle Berkowitz, medical director of Clinical Information Systems for Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group, which touts itself as the largest primary care medical group in Chicago, said that his practice has tried out FastAccess at several office locations and found it to be effective and reliable.
Sensible Vision is pitching the medical field as one of its best bets because so many health care workers are asked to share PCs to access sensitive patient records.
While IT compliance regulations such as the federal governments HIPPA guideline demand that organizations employ far stricter security procedures, the need for medical professionals to get to information quickly often leads to passwords scribbled on sticky notes attached to computers, or USB devices that simply get left in shared computers, the firm said.
"Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee physicians will manually secure their systems as they leave an exam room, so we need to have an automated system that will ideally be fast, easy to use, reasonably priced and effective," said Berkowitz. "We found the FastAccess system fulfilled all these criteria, and weve been very happy with the results."
Berkowitz said that the medical groups doctors appreciate that they can go into an exam room armed with the system and quickly be authenticated, and then only have to re-authenticate if the exam room door is opened, making the system both reliable and unobtrusive. The doctor said that patients have also expressed their approval of the extra level of authentication.
The medical group is now planning to install FastAccess throughout two of its offices by mid-April, with plans to expand the system to the rest of its offices in the future.
Sensible Vision executives concede that one of their biggest challenges remains in proving to companies that facial recognition can be done cheaply and effectively enough to merit serious consideration for widespread use. However, the firm feels confident that in the right circumstances the technology will sell itself.
"We believe we can apply todays technologies in a practical way that actually works, and help solve some security problems pretty directly," said Brostoff.
"We know it probably wont take off overnight, even with all the security breaches occurring out there, but if we can get out and prove it to people, we know theyll see how practical it really is."