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Biometrics

Monday, 02 May 2005

Biometric scans and human chip implants offer the ultimate solution to rising ID crime says Geoffrey Down, managing director, Savantor.  People world wide have been paying with plastic for decades. In the UK, debit and credit card transactions hit a record high in December 2004, with an average of 220 transactions taking place per second. However with the increasing option of carrying out day to day purchases and transactions online, research show that 10% of all credit card payments are now made online - a five-fold increase since 1999. As this growth continues, and increasingly transactions are carried out without the need for the actual presence of plastic, what will happen to the cards that have shaped the way we undertake our purchases?

The move towards contactless payments has already begun. Mobile phone manufacturer Nokia, for example, has released a shell for its series 3220 mobile phone that will enable consumers to use the handset for making contactless payments. The shell uses near field communications (NFC) technology and allows customers to make payments by pointing the phone at a point of sale terminal.

Payment information, such as debit and credit card details, is stored in an integrated smart chip in the shell. This type of technology will inevitably take off with younger generations who are increasingly dependent on their mobiles, regarding them as essentials rather than luxuries.

Unfortunately, the downside of a near future with an increasing use of payment by mobile is that the theft or loss of a phone could also mean the loss of credit/debit card functions.

So how else can payments be made without the use of cards? Japan's third largest bank, The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, will deploy a biometric security system based on vein-pattern recognition technology in branches nationwide in October 2005. The bank will start issuing Visa credit cards with embedded integrated circuits that contain customer vein pattern information and work with a system developed by Fujitsu. The cards function as cash cards, credit cards and as electronic money. Palm vein patterns are read whenever cardholders use ATMs or make transactions at bank counters.

This vein pattern technology works by shining light in the nearinfrared region (the infrared region closest to visible light) on customers' palms. The palms are held about 4cm above a scanner, which takes a snapshot of the palm, illuminating the vein patterns just below the skin. This unique pattern information becomes the basis for security applications.

Biometric payment systems are most widely used by supermarkets, but they are also being pilot tested in several fast food restaurants and have applications at petrol stations and hotels as well.

Customers register a fingerprint scan with a store or restaurant and enter their credit or debit card account numbers to set up their accounts. When it comes to making the purchases, customers place their fingers on the sensors for identity purposes and pay without ever having to show their cards.

In the UK last year Pay By Touch announced that the Oxford, Swindon and Gloucester Co-op would pilot its finger scanning solution in three stores around Oxfordshire.  Pay by Touch allows customers to pay for purchases using a simple, secure method of finger scanning at the point-of-sale, completely eliminating the need to carry cards, cash, loyalty cards or a chequebook. Finger imaging links the individual to an electronic wallet, which holds their financial and loyalty programme information. The initial enrolment process takes about a minute as customers put their finger on a reader, enter a code, and swipe the cards they want to use. The Pay By Touch finger scanning technology does not store actual fingerprints, instead it creates a set of geometric points that allow for a secure identity match at point of sale.

So given that financial transactions require higher-than-average security requirements they should be controlled by asking customers for two things, selected from:

  • Something they know (for example, a secret or password)
  • Something they have (for example, a smart card)
  • Something they are (a biometric)

With a credit/debit chip in your phone (something you have) and an RFID chip injected into your finger (something you are) you're covered!

Why would you not want to use this since it'll be cheaper and easier than having to carry around (and possibly forget) a national ID card or a wallet full of credit, membership, and other cards. You may have to accept being trackable, and be scanned constantly, but if it makes everyday life easier and more affordable - why not?

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