Locked Down: Are Fingerprint Readers Right for Workstations?

Updated: May 13, 2009

The flaw in fingerprint technology (aka biometrics) is that scanners aren't very understanding if you swipe too slow (or too fast) or slide your finger in a different way. That not only can make logging onto your computer a lengthier, more arduous process, but it can also defeat the purpose the security failsafe (after all, there has to be a password backup, right? And that password backup is still as vulnerable as any other).

Biometrics is being used by organizations with high-security needs (like law enforcement). Although the installations are rare, there are some. Jeremy Weiss, a network security specialist from CDW Healthcare, says that although there are relatively few requests for fingerprint readers for office workstations, some high-traffic business environments are turning to them as a failsafe. "When we do run into these situations, they are usually for a Single Sign On situation. They are typically used in high traffic high application environments (Healthcare, financial, and manufacturing areas), where companies have many users sharing a PC in a high traffic area and want a strong authentication product that they can easily manage and audit," said Weiss.

It's also making appearances in some consumer technologies (including the aforementioned laptops), but is this really something that could be translated to the average office environment where you want to ensure that each individual's computer is secure?

Probably not, say many experts.

Although it offers more security, it's also more costly. "While fingerprint as an authentication mechanism offers greater security, implementing it in the workstation may be costly. Moreover, an enterprise's environment may not be able to support a particular fingerprint reader without heavy customization. For instance, a corporation with a mix of Unix, Mac OS, Windows XP, and Windows 95 workstations may face a challenge in implementing a fingerprint technology in the organization due to the fact that different operating platforms may need to be implemented for a the selected fingerprint technology," says Inno Eroraha of NetSecurity Corporation.

Some experts also say that fingerprint scanning technology isn't as secure as it seems. "Common fingerprint readers can be manipulated and can easily malfunction, rendering the technology useless. Even though they might "look good", the security features are nominal," says Rob Fitzgerald, president of The Lorenzi Group.

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