Monday, October 13, 2008

Putting your finger on it

The beauty of Kwikset's SmartScan deadbolt lock -- which reads fingerprints using the emerging technology of biometrics -- is that you can always get in the house, unless you somehow forget your finger.

The principles of biometrics are familiar to any fifth-grader who has watched a James Bond movie. The technology scans and measures a unique biological feature -- fingerprint, palm print, retinal or iris pattern -- and compares it with a sample on file using fancy mathematics. If the scan and the record on file match, voilà -- you have access to the evil genius' computer core, or whatever.

Fingerprint scanning is now commonplace; you can buy a fingerprint-lock USB device for your computer for less than $50.

The technology was fairly hackable in the past. The guys on the Discovery Channel show “MythBusters” unlocked a device using the Xerox of a fingerprint, and some enterprising Japanese hacker replicated a finger using Gummi bears.

But now, fingerprint scanning is a pretty robust and reliable form of security. The Kwikset lock, for instance, looks below the surface of the skin using radio frequency scanning, picking up landmarks of your subdermal print. That means that your finger doesn't have to be perfectly clean or dry for the lock to work.

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