Biometrics refers to the electronic identification of a person based on physiological or behavioural characteristics. In simple words, ‘how do I know that it is you and not someone impersonating you? ’ It represents one of the major areas of development in the field of electronic authentication. In 2004, UAE apprehended over 29,000 people with fraudulent travel documents using an iris-scan biometric system for watch list in all their land, sea and air ports. In this March, another middle-east country has deployed Iris-Scan based technology for passports, visas, and watch lists for border protection and law enforcement.
According to Frost&Sullivan estimates, the worldwide market for biometric products could exceed EUR 6 billion by 2010. Use of biometrics dates back to when the great architects of the Egyptian pyramids recognised their labourers using scars or birth marks.  Oman’s national ID cards issued by the Directorate of civil status, carry finger-print biometrics. Some offices in Oman have building access control systems and employee time-recording systems using similar scans.



The word biometrics comes from the Greek words bio and metric, meaning ‘life measurement’; by measuring something unique about an individual and using that to identify them. Biometric samples can be obtained from fingerprints. voice samples, face recognition, face thermo-grams, retina/iris scan, hand geometry, signature, key-stroke scan, body odour, ear-lobe scan, body-gait recognition, hand-veins, nail-bed verification, breathing-pattern analysis, back-of-knee scan and DNA analysis.

Biometric identification has the advantage that the person must be physically present at the point of identification, and it (may) avoid the need to carry a token or remember a password. Face recognition and finger print matching are the most popular; however voice recognition is attracting interest in financial services industry. Biometrics can be used to prevent unauthorised access to ATMs, cellular phones, smart cards, PCs, networks etc. It can also be used for telephone and Internet banking transactions. Suppose we combine Oman national ID smart cards with biometric fingerprints and public key cryptography it will provides the highest level of security:

·         Something the user is (fingerprint, retina scan/voice pattern)

·         Something the user has (smart card magnetic stripe card)

·         Something the user knows (password or Personal Identity Number (PIN)

At enrolment stage the user is required to look in the direction of a camera or place a finger on a plate or may have to remove eyeglasses and remain still, or recite a pass phrase in order to provide a biometric sample which is later processed using a proprietary algorithm to generate a template (Refer figure).

The need for biometrics can be found in international and local governments, in the military, and in commercial applications. Biometric-based authentication applications include government identity cards, workstation or network access, data protection, financial transaction security, hospital registrations, Web security, Point-Of-Sale Terminals, ATMs, university / school campus identities, association/hotel membership cards, micro-payment transactions, mobile commerce and health care. Fingerprint scans for office time stamp is most common in Oman.

It’s now the time to invalidate myths about biometrics.

·         Biometric sample need an element of liveliness. So cut fingers, stolen cornea do not work after very short time periods (say 10 minutes).

·         The tolerance limits can be varied according to the sensitivity of the application. So security applications are more sensitive than time punch on campus access.

·         Laser devices used for scanning fingers or retina or iris do not harm our health and they non-invasive and hence safe.

·         People of certain nationality have feeble prints and fingerprint scan won’t work for them is no longer valid. The scan technology has advanced very much to have precise high-resolution scans from even feeble prints.

·         Biometric samples are not complete image scans or audio recordings but are processed templates that create unique electronic identities like signatures.

·         Biometric applications provide verification of original samples to newly acquired sample and they do not identify that the sample belongs to the acclaimed person.

·         Accuracy of this technology is in proportion to accuracy of the entire acquisition, storage and verification systems.

From myths to reality, the biggest threat of stolen identity still remains. No wonder Hollywood movies like ‘Minority Report’, ‘Face Off’ show such imaginary situations in dramatic proportions. To quote a forensic expert, ‘biometric identification is like a hammer. It’s not evil unless someone evil picks it up to create damage’.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 04 November 2009 11:26)

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