A north London school is using fingerprint recognition software to give pupils secure access to the school computer network.
Camden City Learning Centre (CLC) opened in October 2002 at South Camden Community School. It serves more than 1,000 students, as well as staff and the surrounding community.
A key issue for the CLC, conceived as part of the government's Excellence in Cities initiative, was the provision of secure, reliable network access for users, some of them as young as 11.
"Our remit was to use the latest technology to support learning in the borough," says CLC manager Anne Casey. "As we are situated at South Camden Community School, we provide an ideal modern education environment for the students, who range in age from 11 to 18. The students can log on to the school's network from the CLC, so they have full access to their work while they are in the centre."
But with so many young people using the facility, it was important that access to networked and online resources was carefully controlled. Casey and her team needed to ensure that students' work was protected from unauthorised users and that internet sessions were monitored to prevent misuse.
Conventional security controls based on user names and passwords had several drawbacks. Students forgot their passwords and had to be given new ones, or failed to change them from the default "PASSWORD" setting, which made life easy for anyone wanting to steal their identities for unauthorised access.
CLC technical manager Colin Small was given the task of finding a reliable alternative system that would be simple to administer.
He and Casey decided that Informer Systems' Sentrinet system, which uses fingerprints to identify users, would offer the reliability and protection needed. "It is easy to use and it enables us to protect our users' information, and trace the source of all activity on the network," says Small.
When new users enrol at the CLC, they are given user names and their fingerprints are scanned electronically - a process that takes just a few seconds. Sentrinet uses an algorithm to convert this visual data into digital form. The algorithm measures the distance between fixed points on the fingerprint - although a child's finger will grow, the ratios between these points remain the same, so the sensor will continue to recognise the fingerprint.
Once they are enrolled, students can access the system through any of 120 keyboards equipped with fingerprint scanners. Between September and December 2002, 1,200 people registered.
Small says the system is easy to manage and does not place heavy demands on system resources.
"Most modern servers could host Sentrinet," he says. "It is very low-maintenance, because all the information is centrally held and once the fingerprints are captured there is no need to update them."