My Thumb is My Passport: Using Biometrics

Hand over the cash to have your iris scanned, and you can speed through security lines. Get a new passport and a chip in it stores your photo digitally to simplify facial recognition. Rent a locker at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Florida, and you can swipe your finger instead of putting a key in your pocket. Biometrics is getting much more common, and it’s starting to be useful to you as well as to the government. While there are privacy worries about public and government systems that use fingerprints, iris recognition and other biometric identifiers, you can certainly use your own fingerprints at home for security-and for convenience.

You can add a fingerprint reader to any PC, either as a USB peripheral that can cost as little as $30, or a unit built into a keyboard or mouse. Typically these work with Windows and Internet Explorer; some support Firefox as well. The EIkon Digital Privacy Manager and the Sony FIU600/M Puppy are the only readers so far that work on a Mac.

microsoft optical desktop

Save on USB ports with a fingerprint reader built into a keyboard like this Microsoft Optical Desktop.

SanDisk’s Cruzer Profile is a fingerprint scanner and chunky 1GB USB flash drive in one; any files on the drive are locked to your fingerprint, and it can store passwords as well. You can get a 1TB hard drive from La Cie with a fingerprint sensor, although this only locks the data on the drive, not the PC to which it’s connected

Many newer notebooks include a fingerprint reader, and they’re particularly useful on tablet PCs and UMPCs. If you don’t have a keyboard or the keyboard is folded away, logging in with a swipe of your finger is faster and easier than pulling out the pen and tapping away letter by letter. But even when you can type your Windows password at high speed, logging in with a fingerprint reader makes your life easier, because the same software that logs you into Windows can log you into all the Web sites and services for which you usually have to remember usernames and passwords.

hewlett packard tx1000

Biometrics isn’t just for business: HP is putting fingerprint readers on consumer PCs like the TX1000.

That doesn’t make your system more secure by itself, but when you have to remember a lot of usernames and passwords and keep typing them in every time, many people use the same ones every time, and they make them short and simple-this means that if one account is compromised, everything is compromised. Storing passwords in a system that’s locked to your fingerprint means that instead of picking and reusing easy passwords that you can remember, you can choose complex and secure passwords, record them somewhere secure in case of problems, and then forget them. Once you’ve logged into Windows with your fingerprint and logged into each site once, the fingerprint security software will automate all your logins.

The only sites this kind of software won’t be able to cope with are banking sites that ask for different letters from your password each time, or ones where you have to select digits for your PIN using an on-screen keypad that changes its layout. If the site has a fixed list of security questions and asks you a different one each time, good software will be able to store all the answers and replay the correct one as needed. Some software, like the DigitalPersona utility that comes with the Microsoft Fingerprint Reader, asks you to swipe your finger for every site you want to use; other utilities ask you to confirm if you want to automate your login to a site the first time you visit it, and then log you in automatically on future visits.

You’ll want to have a standard Windows password as well, in case you run into problems. You can rescan a finger if you get a permanent scar, but note that even a cut that doesn’t break the skin enough to draw blood can interfere with recognition-as would a bandage on your finger. To avoid being locked out, scan several fingers, but have a password as backup too. Since you won’t have to type it every day, and since your account will have automatic access to banking and other confidential information once someone is logged in, make sure it’s a strong password that can’t be guessed easily, like the initial letters of a long sentence, with added punctuation and digits. There are a handful of phones and PDAs with fingerprint sensors, including the LG LP3800 and Toshiba’s Portégé Windows Mobile phones like the G920. Siemens brought out the first fingerprint-protected mobile phone in 1999.

siemens mobile fingerprint

The first mobile phone with a fingerprint scanner was made by Siemens in 1999.

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  • Anonymous
    i have an MS fingerprint scanner, when might the drivers come out for windows vista x64???
  • Lt Smash
    That last paragraph about scar messing up your biometric reading...does this mean that I can't use biometrics since I'm a diabetic? I prick my fingers 10-15 times a day so I've got constant scar tissue forming and healing...that would suck if I couldn't, cause I've always dreamed of fingerprint door locks.
  • Anonymous
    A word of caution for fingerprint readers. Well not so much the readers but the act of using them for security. The US Gov't can't force you to give up your password because it's 'something you know'. But they can make you give up your fingerprints because it's 'something you are'. They can legally compel you to open your computer since it's just your fingerprint as the password. If you have a typed password, they can't.
  • Anonymous
    Beware, this is the first few steps before the "mark of the beast". No I'm not religious, it's just kind of freakish to see the book of "Revelations" happen right before our eyes since y2k...
  • Anonymous
    Well, these things don't work worth a squat, these finger print readers do not work for me. The technology needs to be further developed, before it can be wide spread.
  • Anonymous
    BewareOfDolphy- I agree, There's no way anyone should agree with this especially seeing as how the pentagon went on record as saying they want every americans thumb print and eye identification.

    I'm not even a religious person but I can see this "can't buy or sell with out the mark" thing coming.
  • ModdoG
    when u use the keyboard ,plug it out and swap with another one .
    and your in the pc,LOL
  • Anonymous
    Not a too good way for security, while we leave almost our finger print everywhere...
  • Anonymous
    They need to fast track the fingerprint readers and make them part of every day life. Only those with criminal tendencies will have an issue with it. As I live in the country with the highest crime rate I am willing to give up freedom for a safer environment and loger life.
  • Anonymous
    I don't see the security in fingerprint readers. It's just as easy to bypass them. If anything it offers password text security without having to remember anything. As government databases become more widespread with the use of fingerprinting, why would you want your own personal information stored with the same "key" (fingerprint) that the government has on file? Sounds ridiculous.
  • Anonymous
    i agree with PixelPusher220, in the future when fingerprint is used as password to almost everything, e-mail or banking, etc. i think there'll be a lot of folks loosing their thumbs because some crooks cut 'em!
  • Anonymous
    they are amazing. I have one for my of http://www.theidoctor.org
  • Anonymous
    Its ok. Quality is not great on those cheap ones. Http://www.theidoctor.org
  • Anonymous
    The book of revelations, is written and followed by the illumanati and who sell the mark of the beast to the brainwashed public.....