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Authentication Redux

Vascular map of handThe trip to New York for a board meeting last week went smoothly. Traffic was light — even within the city — and I got to the hotel lobby in much better than normal time. The one thing that went less well than it could have the check in process at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway. After a long wait line I was greeted by a person at the desk. Hoteliers actually think that guests want to be greeted by an employee and have them ask how you are today. One would think that they would realize is that the most important thing a guest wants to get to their room. I had a reservation. All the information about me is already in the reservation record and the frequent stayer record. In spite of this the hotel agent had to enter a lot of keystrokes for some reason. The only thing they did not have was authentication. They wanted to make sure I was the person I said I was. I showed them my driver’s license in the flip-up plastic window of my wallet but that was not good enough. The agent had to go to the back office and make a photocopy. No wonder the waiting line is so long.

The solution to speeding up and improving the accuracy of the authentication process is the use of biometrics. The technology has been around for decades. Pick your favorite — hand geometry, fingerprint, iris scan, face scan, or voice print. There are many working solutions available today from many vendors. None are perfect and that is why we don’t see more implementations. Rather than take a leadership approach, many institutions in effect say, "we can’t do *anything* until it is perfect. Some lawyers say that if it hasn’t been to the Supreme Court then don’t use it. The result is that we stand in line waiting for someone to photocopy what might be a stolen driver’s license.
My favorite approach is hand vascular pattern biometric a technology that originated from a conventional vein pattern recognition system. Studies show that 99.98% of the world’s adult population can use it. It is highly secure because there is no back door, such as a key or numeric password. Fingerprint devices suffer from usability because some users have faint fingerprints while iris and retina scan devices may not be appropriate for people with eye diseases. On the other hand, no pun intended, hand vascular patterns are unique to each of us and to each hand. The chance of someone being incorrectly recognized is 0.0001%. Not perfect but that is good enough for me. The best part is that hand vascular scanning does not require physical contact, compared to fingerprint scanners which require users to press a finger onto the scanner in order to capture the print. The idea of wiping your finger over something that millions of other people have wiped their fingers seems inconsistent with what people on cruise ships are told. One other subtly for increased security with hand scanning is that because of the sensor’s capability to sense the user’s temperature, there assurance that the hand is alive. Being able to establish that we are who we say we are could speed the lines at airports, hotels, sporting events, and hospitals.

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