Track ball, mouse give security a hand

Advanced Biometrics preps Live Grip authentication device; spinoff to serve as data warehouse.

Advanced Biometrics Inc. is developing biometric track ball and mouse technology to be used in identification and authentication.

The track ball or mouse, provisionally named Live Grip, maps the substructure of the human hand by measuring veins, deep creases, scars and fatty-tissue density through infrared light.

With alpha testing scheduled for the first quarter of next year and with e-commerce beta testers signed on, the Puyallup, Wash., company is targeting the technology for business-to-business Web sites, credit card issuers and financial institutions.

The company is planning an initial launch of Live Grip during the second quarter and expects that the device will be used by both business and consumer users.

Advanced Biometrics has spun off a separate company, called DigiKnox, to be the central data storage warehouse for the potential millions of substructure scans. Officials said DigiKnox will purchase a bank to warehouse the database servers in an actual vault.

DigiKnox will also be targeting OEMs such as Logitech International S.A., Microsoft Corp. and Kensington Microware Ltd. to install the substructure infrared scanner directly in track balls and mice.

DigiKnox is still in the genesis phase, with a verbal commitment for $100 million in funding but no signed documents. The company is expected to announce that it has hired a "very influential" member of the credit card industry as president.

The authentication technology could help e-commerce companies cut the cost of doing business, said Advanced Biometrics President and DigiKnox CEO John Stiver.

"One of the things that is important is that e-commerce sites are in a high-risk category," Stiver said. "They are paying 8 or 9 percent to be able to use credit card transactions. A brick-and-mortar [company] is only paying 2.5 to 3 percent for each transaction. What we want to do is attack that difference."

While Stiver acknowledged that it may be more difficult to reach consumers initially, some analysts believe that may be understating the case.

"Biometrics are viable," said Peter Lindstrum, an analyst with Hurwitz Group Inc., in Philadelphia. "But the challenge of getting equipment to users is difficult to overcome. With [B2B], there is more control but [fewer] users. Deploying track balls is pretty much impossible for any business-to-consumer regard."