Sun and partners claim first with biometrics and smartcard combination

Two US intelligence agencies are testing a computer security system that combines smartcard technology from Sun Microsystems with...

Two US intelligence agencies are testing a computer security system that combines smartcard technology from Sun Microsystems with an Ethernet-capable fingerprint reader.

Art Sands, chief operating officer and executive vice-president of Sun partner AC Technology said the two agencies piloting the biometrics system, which runs on Sun's Sun Ray terminals, have been testing the system since January.

The system combines Sun's Sun Ray and smartcards, credit-card sized chips containing information on the owner's identity, with AC Technology's Solaris-based BiObex biometrics software and the "forensic-quality" Verifier E Fingerprint Scanning device from Cross Match Technologies.

The companies claimed the package was the first such biometrics system to be Ethernet, instead of USB, capable and the first to combine Sun's smartcards with biometrics.

The package will cost about $1,800 (£1,230) per seat not including the terminal, is at least six times more expensive than some fingerprint scanners, but the companies touted the scanner as forensic quality, as defined by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, the first forensic-quality biometric system in a Unix environment.

The biometrics system will soon be available for more government agencies and private businesses. While the package may be security overkill for many computer users, the partners have interest from a number of other agencies and industries, including the healthcare and financial sectors, where information security is especially important, said Robert Gianni, director of engineering for Sun's Sun Ray project.

The companies are seeing interest from security-conscious organisations with threats such as "identity theft and cyberterrorism becoming more imminent", said Tim Murray, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Cross Match Technologies.

With the package, an employee at an intelligence agency could use a smart card to log into any Sun Ray terminal at the agency.

The terminal then would ask the employee for a fingerprint scan, with the system deciding what finger should be scanned. Those two identity checks would allow the employee access to the information he or she's allowed to see, as well as his or her last desktop session.

Smartcards can also be programmed to allow employees access to buildings, in the same way bank cards can open locked ATM lobbies.

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