The most common comment I hear when discussing fingerprint biometrics is that it does not work. Sometimes it is phrased as a question, sometimes as a statement but the sentiment is always the same – fingerprint biometrics is iffy at best
And there is some merit to that point of view. There are too many substandard biometric systems available on the market that has tarnished the image of fingerprint biometrics. There is a stark similarity with what has happened in the CCTV industry – people with minimal knowledge and resources flinging together a product touted on pricing and not quality. I know of manufacturers that work out of their basements and garages at home or small little factories in a market place, buying different components from different vendors, writing quick-fire user interfaces and then by hook or by crook coming up with a product that looks like the real deal. End-users will purchase these products and end up being disillusioned with the whole biometric industry not only the product.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not slamming companies who start out in basements or garages – two of the top companies in the world, Microsoft and Apple, started in a garage. But there is a difference – Microsoft and Apple used science, innovation and a product that works as their founding principles. Neither of these companies was in it for a quick buck only to disappear into oblivion within a year or two. They were in it for the long haul and have since set the bar for innovation, research, development and quality. They keep on coming up with new ideas, new technologies and new ways to use their product.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for a very large portion of the Electronic Security market as there are only a few innovators, a few with the resources to constantly research and develop, a few with vision – the fingerprint biometrics market is no different.
In my previous opinion piece I spoke about the quality of the mathematical algorithm that forms the heart of any biometric device and how this influences how successful a biometric device is. But that only pertains to the quality of the fingerprint template, read speed and Equal Error Rate. The actual construction of the device is also of great importance. How well the mainboard is put together, the safeguards placed on the mainboard, the functionality of the device, the quality of the fingerprint sensor, the quality of the lens on the fingerprint sensor, the construction of the outer casing, IP ratings ad infinitum. These are all factors that contribute to the success or failure of the device as a device.
Unfortunately there are many other factors that contribute towards the success or failure of biometric devices when it is deployed as a system, be it Access Control or Time & Attendance or a combination of the two.
The largest contributors to the failure of biometric devices are power supply and surge protection. Biometric devices are sensitive electronic devices that are very specific about power requirements.
- Voltage drop because the cable runs from the PSU to the device is too long placing strain on the components inside the device and which over time will lead to component failure.
- Inadequate electrical supply because the PSU is not of the required rating once again inevitably resulting in component failure
- Incorrect cabling being used to transfer electrical supply and not taking into account the Voltage drop because the AWG guidelines are not followed
An immutable rule in any electronic installation is “Protect your circuits”. For some reason or other installers do not install surge protection on not only the electrical supply line but also electrical supply lines to locks, fly-back diodes on any type of electrical lock (which causes EMF on the mainboard & PSU causing main board failure) or TCP/IP data lines. This is not a failure of the device but a failure of the installer to properly safeguard the circuit
Poor workmanship is a fact in any industry but it seems to be a particular bugbear in the electronic security industry. Sometimes I get to a site and just shake my head in wonderment that the system actually powered up and is functioning in any way, shape or form.
- Devices are mounted at incorrect heights to take full advantage of the fingerprint sensor thereby giving a lot of false negatives
- Devices are mounted close to three-phase DB boards, HT cable or near generators and heavy electrical machinery and having to deal with massive amounts of EMI in the process, which inevitably will result in mainboard or component failure.
- Devices are mounted outside or in harsh environments without protection (unless it is a device specifically designed and manufactured for that purpose)
- Joints aren’t soldered and protected leading to oxidisation and failure of either the device or third party devices such as locks
- Cabling is exposed, not labelled and not run to any kind of standard or specification
Wrong cabling is used for the wrong application for instance Cat 5 cable used to power and control a magnetic lock
- Cabling is installed with 90 degree bends or are coiled
- No external relays have been used to make the access point a secure access point
- Electrical issues such as discussed above
- Trunking, conduit and proper junction boxes are not used
Premise Cabling and Network Infrastructure
Poor networks are a reality. Substandard cable that does not comply with the TIA/EIA 568 standard is in abundance. What installers do not realise is that copper cladded aluminium cable is not suitable for anything other than a small home network. Proper Cat 5e or Cat 6 cabling is required to run biometric devices as a system for either Access Control or T&A or a combination. Without proper cabling the data signal gets impeded resulting in packet loss and interminable loss of communication between the device and the head-end control equipment.
Data cabling is not installed in accordance with ISO IEC 11801, termination points are poorly crimped and situated, there are no consolidation points with patch panels, switching gear or wall boxes. I have even seen numerous installations where the data cable run exceeds 140 meters because somehow or other TCP/IP based security devices doesn’t have to comply to the same standards as would an information network consisting of PC’s, servers, printers etc. yet the question is asked “Why does it not communicate?”
Another factor that is often overlooked is the quality of the switching and routing gear. Why would you use a switch that is manufactured for the SOHO market on an access control system? The mind boggles. And even when gear that is manufactured for this purpose is used, the management of the gear is insufficient or lacking. Ports are not opened, VPN’s are not properly routed – the list goes on and on
Software and Head-End Equipment
The software management suite for a biometric system is an integral part of how the biometric device functions. Although many devices have built-in intelligence, that intelligence is limited to the immediate function of the device and is not propagated throughout the whole system. This is where the software suite comes in – it manages templates, the access control function of the system and keeps a database of events for later scrutiny. If the software is poorly written or is unstable the whole system will function poorly and although the individual devices may be brilliant the performance of the device bound as a system will disappoint.
What I often find is that the IT hardware will be lacking in capability or hopelessly over specked. The one results in slow performance (or non-performance) of the system and the other in a hopeless waste of money. The OS of the IT hardware, anti-virus programmes and software firewalls often have an influence on the performance of the system. The installer must ensure that the IT hardware complies with the minimum specification required by the software suite without going overboard and that the necessary steps are followed for the software suite to be able to work with the OS and other software involved. The hardware must preferably be a single purpose machine and not be used for other purposes
The second biggest failure of any biometric system is the enrolment of the template when the system is being commissioned. For me this is a massive issue as on numerous occasions I have found that users complain that the biometric system does not function properly only to find that users have been enrolled poorly. If you have a bad enrolment, you have a bad system. All other factors in play can be according to standard – or even exceed it – but the biometric system will function poorly causing frustration and disillusionment with users.
In summation, the line between a successful system and a failed system is a thin one. It comes down to the right choice of device with accompanying software suite, proper installation and a network that will be able to enhance and not impede the system.