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(Nikkei BP Group)

(No.1 High-Tech News Site in Japanese)

  • Biometric Authentication Systems Used for Reliable Security
  • October 5, 1998 (TOKYO) -- An increasing number of devices are utilizing biometric authentication technology to verify the identity of an authorized user of personal computers.
    With the biometric authentication technology, authorized users can be identified by fingerprints or facial features. The recognition is done by checking an individual's physical features that seldom change over the years such as those of fingerprints, facial features or an iris, against previously registered data.

    This technology enhances system security, reducing the possibility of unauthorized access compared with password-based user authentication systems.

    Lower-Priced Fingerprint Authentication Systems are Introduced

    Recently, such fingerprint authentication systems have been attracting considerable attention in Japan. Yoshihiro Tsukamura, general manager of Sony Corp.'s Bionics Department, said that fingerprint authentication systems are usually superior in terms of price, operability and size.

    The price is an important factor when users consider introducing such authentication systems for client PCs. Compaq Computer K.K. of Japan, has introduced a set of a fingerprint-reading devices and a dedicated software package for 19,000 yen (US$140). It reduced the price by downsizing the device and using a CMOS image sensor to read fingerprints, Compaq officials said.

    Some other fingerprint authentication systems, priced at tens of thousands of yen, have also been announced (See table). Those systems boast an authentication rate of 99 percent or more, in just a few seconds. These devices have reached a state of practicality.

    Used for Handling Confidential Data

    Sangikyo Co., Ltd., which installs and operates parabolic antennas and other large communication equipment, introduced in April a fingerprint authentication system for its NT server.

    The company had been utilizing a user ID and password system to verify its authorized system users.

    "Our company decided to introduce the system because we store highly confidential data including facility plans of clients in the NT server," said Yoshinori Nakamura, MIS manager of the administrative division of Sangikyo's information systems department.

    Sangikyo uses 34 devices at its accounting, personnel and general affairs sections. An additional 100 devices will be installed in 1999.

    The system is a server version of ONLY ONE Windows NT Long-on System, jointly developed by Sony and Tsubasa System Co., Ltd.

    "Although sometimes the system cannot make an authentication in its first attempt depending on the dryness of the finger and other variables, I believe that it has reached a practical level," Nakamura said. He also said that the security level of the system is higher than those employing conventional password-based systems.

    Little Reluctance to Accept Fingerprint-based System Among Users

    Makers of fingerprint authentication systems are not overly concerned with Japanese users' reluctance to offer their fingerprints when utilizing the system.

    Most systems store fingerprints as numerical data, not as image data, and the system cannot decompress fingerprints from the numerical data. Those who are initially unwilling to provide their fingerprints will generally be convinced to do so when they are informed of that system characteristic, according to officials at Mitsubishi Electric Corp.

    Many users like the ease-of-use features. For example, before shipping its fingerprint authentication systems, Omron Corp. conducted a test in a hospital. It installed a PC with a password-based user authentication system and a one with a fingerprint-based system, and observed which PC was more popular. The test showed that more visitors to the hospital used the PC with the fingerprint authentication system, according to an Omron spokesman.

    PC-based Authentication Systems are Mainstream

    Two types of fingerprint user authentication systems are mainly used. One type of system transfers fingerprint data it reads to a PC and verifies users by checking fingerprints against the stored data. The other type of device handles all reading, checking and verifying.

    The read-only devices are less expensive. However, the security level is higher with the devices that handle all reading, checking and verifying.

    A PC containing stored fingerprint data is capable of checking and verifying. Even though the fingerprint data is encrypted, it is more vulnerable to theft than data stored in flash memories built in a device.

    Tsukamura of Sony said the problem with the PC-based system is the difficulty in ascertaining when fingerprint data is stolen.

    On the other hand, users of the all-in-one devices will be able to ascertain more easily when data stored in the device is stolen because a theft must be familiar with the mechanism of the system and must disassemble the system to steal the data, Tsukamura said.

    Table: Major PC-based Biometric Authentication Systems

    Authentication Object


    Price (10,000 yen is approx. US$70)

    Shipment Date

    Domestic Shipments



    24,800 yen for a set of a read-only authentication device

    and a dedicated software package

    July 1998

    About 2,000 units

    Compaq Computer

    19,000 yen for a set of a read-only authentication device

    and a dedicated software package

    November 1998


    Sony (hardware), Tsubasa System (software)

    128,000 yen for a set of a read-only authentication device and a dedicated software package

    November 1997

    About 2,000 units


    50,000 yen for a set of a read-only authentication device

    and software for development

    August 1998

    About 10 users

    Mitsubishi Electric

    98,000 yen for a set of a read-only authentication device

    and software for development

    April 1998

    About 150 units



    The price of such software starts from 150,000 yen with 25 users. A stylus device is needed.

    April 1996

    Tens of thousands of users

    Facial features


    50,000 yen per client (software only). A camera will be needed.

    August 1998

    About 10 users


    Oki Electric Industry

    1.5 million yen for a stand-alone type (a set of a PC, software and a read-only device)

    October 1998


    (return to news)

    (Yuichi Sakaguchi, Staff Editor, Nikkei Computer)

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    Nikkei BP BizTech, Inc.
    All Rights Reserved.
    Updated: Fri Oct 2 16:27:57 1998 PDT