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Will Coronavirus Cause the Demise of Biometric Fingerprint Access Control?

Fingerprint biometrics is a commonly used credential in access control systems worldwide. It has become the most popular form of biometric technology used in physical access control systems. Over the years fingerprint readers have become less expensive and are now commonplace in gyms, residential buildings and corporates. It is, however, a technology which relies on contact with the fingerprint sensor in order to match the fingerprint of the person with the template or credential on record.

Use of Fingerprint Readers @ Airports

Most airports have introduced biometric readers for immigration access control purposes. However, these mostly rely on fingerprint biometric technology which needs the person to place their fingers on a fingerprint surface. Like most installations, how often are these readers being cleaned? and is it putting people at risk especially due to the high volumes of pedestrian traffic and the potential of risk from other individuals using the scanner?

The big question here is:

Will the Coronavirus outbreak lead to a reduction in fingerprint use and the increase in non-contact forms of access control technology.

Germs and Fingerprint Readers

For many years various tests have shown there is some buildup of bacteria on fingerprint readers, especially in the short term. Many germophobic individuals, especially in corporates, organisations and in apartment buildings, despise using them.

However, there are various arguments for and against this issue. One could also say how does this actually compare with the amount of germs/bacteria present on manual access control hardware such as the common door handle? or the buttons in an elevator or pressing the button at a traffic light.

What can be said is that within the panicked state of the Coronovirus outbreak we currently find ourselves in, people do need to avoid contact with surfaces which could have come into contact with droplets from an infected person. Especially if one had to remove one’s glove to do a fingerprint match. So do we then avoid using fingerprint readers? If so what alternative technology is out there and how secure is it?

(1.) Proximity RFID

Good old fashioned RFID uses a card/tag/token which is energised when it comes into contact with an RFID reader. This is probably the most common form of access/control and more popular in certain countries than fingerprint readers.

Pros

  • Semi Non-Contact Technology.
  • Ideal for Hi-Throughput Applications.
  • Super Low Cost.

Cons

  • Some contact may occur when swiping or tagging the reader.
  • Cards/Tags/Tokens can be cloned unless encryption is implemented.
  • Some users do not like the hassle of carrying an access/control credential.

(2.) Facial Recognition for Biometric Access Control

One of the emerging biometric technologies is that of facial recognition using video cameras and/or optical sensors. Pricing has dropped over the years as the technology becomes more commercial and the use becomes widespread. Apple is using it for there own products, I just logged into my Microsoft Surface Pro using facial recognition technology and the Intersec security show I just returned from had many examples of access/control readers making use of facial recognition.

Overall it looks like the perfect replacement for fingerprint biometrics for access control. However how secure is the technology? Can it be spoofed using a hi-tech mask? Also what happens when a person in a Coronovirus affected area wears a face mask. Will the technology still be able to recognise the person or will they need to be re-enrolled into the system?

Pros

  • Non-Contact Technology.
  • Ideal for Hi-Throughput Applications.
  • Becoming more Affordable.

Cons

  • Some facial recognition battles with different lighting conditions (such as backlight).
  • Many individuals are concerned about privacy issues and storage of facial recognition data.
  • Security Issues – Independent tests have shown it could potentially be spoofed using a hi-tech face mask.

(3.) 3D Finger Wave

This technology developed by a French company uses cameras to build up a 3D image of the hand as it is waved through the sensor. Very high speed, no contact is required by the user’s fingers on a physical surface.

Pros

  • Non-Contact Technology.
  • Accurate.
  • High Speed.

Cons

  • Super Expensive Readers.
  • The Reader Size.
  • Could potentially by spoofed by using a 3D printed hand.
  • Only one manufacturer of this technology + Limited Software Software.

(4.) Bluetooth Access Control

These readers use an app on one’s phone with a digital key to communicate over standard bluetooth technology with the access control reader. There are several companies such as 2N that offer this technology, but it not very popular. It is, however, a contactless technology and is fairly secure as there is normally a security token/key on either side of the communication which needs to be exchanged. They are normally double or three times the cost of standard RFID readers.

Pros

  • Non-Contact Technology
  • Secure.Very difficult to Spoof due to Encryption.
  • Multiple Manufacturers of Bluetooth Readers.
  • Compact Size.

Cons

  • Bluetooth needs to be on.
  • The phone requires an app.

(5.) QR Code Access Control

Extremely popular in Asia as a form of credential for payments or as a method of transferring business card details or even to save the planet by providing users with a link to download information at a trade show. QR code technology is an ideal low-cost form of credential that can easily be sent to visitors to gain access into or out of a building.

The biggest disadvantage of QR codes is that they could be shared between users. However, there are mechanisms one can implement such as forcing users to log into an app to get access to the QR code or by expiring the QR code or by limiting the number of times the QR code could be used.

Users can use there own smartphones with a credential issued by the site management. This can also be used for temporary visitor or contractor access control.

Pros

  • Non-Contact Technology.
  • Low to Medium Cost.
  • High Speed Transactions.
  • Does not require an app.

Cons

  • Unless Measures are in place, credentials could easily be copied from one person to the next.

(6.) Iris Recognition

Thanks to my friend Yousuf Baig for reminding me to add this. Iris recognition biometric technology has been around for some years. It uses technology which scans the iris of the eye to compare against a template of a person that has already been loaded onto the system. This technology has had a limited following due to cost and in some countries a cultural backlash. In some cultures, they believe by capturing or reading the IRIS you could be getting medical information or capturing the soul of the person.

Conclusion

Fingerprint biometric technology is most likely here to remain in the short to medium term and will probably survive the Coronovirus outbreak.

However, organisations need to assess the use of this technology and implement methods to protect employees against the transfer of germs etc. This could be by installing hand cleaning stations adjacent to the readers and by ensuring cleaning staff have a protocol for regular cleaning of the fingerprint readers.

In the medium, to long term, I predict that access/control users will retain fingerprint readers for low traffic areas which require higher security such as server rooms. But will move to newer technologies such as QR code scanning, facial recognition and various other non-contact forms of credentials for high traffic access control.

Nathan Bearman is co-founder of the EvTrack visitor management & cloud access control solution and a director of the Eagle Group of Companies. He is also an experienced security system designer with 20+ years in the access control and CCTV security industry.

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