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Fingerprint Biometric Technology

Biometrics measure individuals’ unique physical or behavioural characteristics to recognise or authenticate their identity. Common physical biometrics include fingerprints; hand or palm geometry; and retina, iris, or facial characteristics. Behavioural characters include signature, voice, keystroke pattern, and gait. Of all these, fingerprint biometrics is the most developed. Of all the above, a biometric is the most secure and convenient authentication tool. It can’t be borrowed, stolen, or forgotten, and forging one is practically impossible. Biometrics can be integrated into any application that requires security, access control, and identification or verification of people.


Fingerprint Recognition:

A fingerprint looks at the patterns found on a fingertip. There are a variety of approaches to fingerprint verification. Some emulate the traditional police method of matching pattern; others use straight minutiae matching devices; and still others are a bit more unique, including things like moiré fringe patterns and ultrasonic characteristics. A greater variety of fingerprint devices is available than for any other biometric technology.


How it works:

Fingerprint systems translate illuminated images of fingerprints into digital code for further software such as enrolment (fingerprint registration) and verification (authentication or verification of registered users).

The scanner uses an advanced CMOS image sensor to capture high contrast, high resolution fingerprint images that are virtually distortion-free. A series of powerful algorithms extract data from the image, mapping the distinguishing characteristics of the fingerprint.


This data is then converted into an encoded binary string known as a digital template, and stored in a database. The actual fingerprint image is never stored. To identify or verify a fingerprint, a proprietary matching algorithm compares the new template made from the extracted characteristics from the input fingerprint on the optical module to a previously stored sample. The entire matching process takes roughly one second. Authentication takes place locally at the device or on a server, depending on system configuration.

"Identification vs. Verification" Defined:

There is two primary functions offered by any biometric system. One is identification, a one-to-many (1:N) matching process wherein a biometric sample is compared to a set of stored samples in a database. The other is verification, a one-to-one (1:1) matching process in which the biometric system compares an individual’s biometric sample to previously enrolled data for that user. The process of verification narrows the biometric database search by including other identifiers such as names or IDs. The terms “verification” and “authentication” are sometimes used interchangeably because both terms are used primarily to establish a specific user’s validity rather than to identify users by querying an entire database of biometric samples.


"Authentication" Defined:

Any systematic method of confirming the identity of an individual. Some methods are more secure than others. Simple authentication methods include user name and password, while more secure methods include token-based one-time passwords. The most secure authentication methods include layered “multimodal” biometric procedures. This is independent of authorisation.

"FAR and FRR" Defined:

Most modern biometric security systems can be fine-tuned to fit the needs of either high security or low security environments. Increasing security in biometric systems sometimes makes them more finicky, resulting in an increased False Rejection Rate (FRR) – this is manifested when a registered user’s biometric data (e.-g. fingerprint minutiae data) is rejected by the system. In these cases, emphasis on ambient lighting, climate, or user training may be needed. The net effect of FRR is usually nothing more than inconvenience to users. However, if security is set too low, the False Acceptance Rate (FAR) may increase. This is potentially far more serious, since it involves an unauthorised person gaining access to protected resources. The FAR and FRR varies widely between biometric systems.


Do You Need A Biometric Solution?

How do you determine if a biometric solution is right for you? You firstly need to have a solid understanding of your needs. The first thing an end user needs to look for in a biometric solution is the software; it’s too easy to identify a time and attendance system by its clock. In most cases, the clock will need to be replaced. Finding the right software for an installation is an integral piece of the puzzle. Also, end users need software that will meet the needs of the organisation. Look for open systems that won’t limit future enhancements or the addition of other application modules, like job costing or labour accounting. End users should find vendors that can provide a future upgrade path at the time of purchase.


  • End users should also remember to include maintenance and training as part of their solutions, system costs will vary depending upon the software, installation, and training. Look for a cost of ownership over the life of the system — not just the initial price. If end users only pay attention to the initial cost, the ongoing maintenance charges could be a real surprise.

  • End users must know how they will be using the biometric system; will the system be tied into access control? What is the flexibility of the software? One solution is not for all people. It is also smart to avoid complex systems. Look for what can be upgraded easily. The technology is changing quickly enough that there’s a good chance you will want to upgrade in three to five years anyway.

  • End users need to have a relatively clean environment if they plan to use fingerprint recognition, while market opportunities are increasing, the technology is not for every market. For example, fingerprinted identification isn’t going to work well with migrating workers or mechanics with dirty hands.

  • There are several different types of biometric technology to choose from. A solid understanding of your needs can go a long way to ensure your installation is successful.

Important Biometric Technology Facts:

  • Fingerprint technology is NOT new! The commercial technology used by reputable products has evolved over the last 25 years, to the degree where through advances in technology and greater market acceptance, high quality scanners are now available at a far more affordable price.

  • Fingerprints have been used as a form of identification for more than 200 years and are recognised as an acceptable form of identification by police services (AFIS) world wide.

  • Not all Biometric Readers are the same. Just like any other product, you get well designed product, manufactured with high standards and then on opposite side of the spectrum, you get poorly designed and poorly produced technology.

  • Not all Biometric scanners are equal. There are also many variations of Biometric technology (Finger Scan, Iris, Face, and Hand Geometry), each variation has been designed for a particular application.

  • Optical Finger Scanners are the predominant technology in the Biometric Time and Attendance market. The durability and the ease of use of these devices make them ideal for all applications.

  • Not all Biometric algorithms are the same. An algorithm is a formula used to calculate the characteristics of a scanned image and search for the best match. Well designed algorithms, give you accurate search facilities at high speed.

Why should your company use Biometric technology in place of traditional ID cards?

  • Your company needs to eliminate “buddy clocking“, where one employee clocks for two or more staff members.

  • You have more than 150 employees using a clocking terminal and want to save on the additional costs involved in issuing ID cards.

  • You need to validate for security or health and safety reasons, that the correct person, with the correct skill and personal profile has access to your site.

  • You make use of contract/seasonal labour and cannot always ensure the ID cards will be returned.


When does Biometric Technology not work?

  • Biometric Technology is not the answer for every type of industry, when it is used in the right application, it works perfectly. However, in some businesses, it will never work. The main issue to consider is whether or not your staff’s fingerprints remain consistent.

  • When you enrol a finger on the system, a master file image is stored. Thereafter, every time that finger transacts, the system compares the current image against the master file image. If there is a difference, then the system will NOT accept that transaction. Therefore, a builder who is laying bricks will not be consistently read by the system, as the characteristics of the finger change on a daily basis due to damage to the physical characteristics of the finger.

  • Exposure to abrasive surfaces, glues, solvents, powders, cement, excessive moisture and cut/damaged fingers all constitute environmental issues which are detrimental to the success of a Biometric installation.

  • Some people genetically have difficult to read fingerprints, aspects, such as, extremely dry or extremely moist fingers, small fingers or previous exposure to harsh chemicals all affect the enrolment and future success of transactions.


Will you get immediate benefit from a Biometric Device? There are a number of important issues to consider:

  • User education is paramount to ensure the success of the installation.

  • The first time enrolment of your staff rarely results in the best master file image. The reason for this, comes down to user education, if the staff member does not consistently place their finger on the scanner during the enrolment the master file will not have an accurate template to compare each future transaction against.

  • Your staff need an opportunity to experiment with clocking/transacting on a Biometric Scanner; this will build their confidence levels, as well as improve their enrolment / transaction technique.

  • A future re-enrolment of the master file image will result in improved transaction performance, both in speed and the false rejection rate.



When implementing a new Biometric System the following guidelines should be followed

1. The location of the reader must be identified taking cognisance of the following issues:

  • The fingerprint scanner should not be exposed to direct sun light or harsh industrial lighting, this may result in an “over exposed image” (like a photograph). – Please note, the position of the sun changes during the day and also changes between seasons (summer high on the horizon, winter low on the horizon).

  • The floor surface must be flat and level.

  • There must be sufficient elbow room for the users to transact in a natural fluid movement.

  • The reader should be mounted at a height of 1.5m, it is better for the reader to be mounted higher rather than lower.

  • The reader must not be exposed to moisture, i.e. rain, mist, high humidity or water spray unless it has a weather-proof or IP65 rating.


2. The users must be properly trained, this involves:

  • Informing the users of the plan to implement a biometric system.

  • Correctly demonstration how they are to transact on the system during the enrolment phase.

  • Correctly demonstration how they are to transact for the clocking IN and OUT procedure.

  • Instructing the user on the issues which will result in a “failed” transaction.


3. The users must feel comfortable with the technology, the following practise assists with this process:

  • Educate the users.

  • Take your time with enrolment.

  • Consider a re-enrolment at a later stage.


4. Look out for the following tell-tale problem signs:

  • Employees who do not get a high enrolment score.

  • Employees who have particularly small fingers, you will notice that the scanner is not covered. – Try and use a thumb.

  • Employees who have thin fingers, you will notice that the red LED light penetrates the finger. – Ask the user to place one finger on top of another (cross fingers).

  • Employees who do not have clearly defined fingerprints.

  • Employees with particularly dry skin. – This is an indication of poor health, the employee should seek medical treatment, however the use of a moisturiser or oil from the forehead does help.

  • Employees who arrive with clean hands and end their day with exceptionally dirty or damaged hands.

  • Employees who work in wet environments and end the day with wrinkled fingers.

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