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Biometrics Security system of the future

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

BRIDGEPORT -- In the movie "War Games," a teen-ager gained access to a U.S. Department of Defense computer system and almost caused World War III.

Although that was just a movie, capabilities demonstrated by computer hackers have defense officials concerned about "cyber terrorists."

But cutting-edge research soon to be performed in Bridgeport might help ease those fears.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Army announced that it will open an interim Biometrics Fusion Center at the Benedum Airport complex. The Army plans to have the three- to seven-person office operating by later this month.

Biometric technology developed there will be designed to make government computer systems more secure.

"(Biometrics) uses human characteristics to provide a more advanced login," said Larry Hornak, associate professor of computer science in the Electrical Engineering Department at West Virginia University.

The goal of biometrics research is to develop computers that automatically recognize a person by using distinguishing traits, such as fingerprints, voice patters, eye patterns and other unique characteristics.

Biometrics should eventually eliminate the need for passwords, and prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to computer systems, Hornak said.

Although the technology is new, some kinds of biometric systems already are being used, he said.

"Fingerprinting is basically what's being looked at right now," he said. "There already are commercial products available with that technology."

Those systems use fingerprint sensors mounted on the keyboards, he said.

The computer compares the fingerprint of the user with one stored in its memory.

"The fingerprint systems are pretty new, but they are advancing pretty rapidly. The devices are coming down in price."

But fingerprint scanning technology is just the beginning of what likely will be researched at the Bridgeport facility, he said.

Other types include voice prints and iris scans, he said.

Biometrics can involve virtually any human characteristic that is unique to each person, he said. Some new systems can even distinguish between users by analyzing typing patters, he said.

"A German company is now marketing a computer that uses voice prints, a keystroke analyzer and lip movements," Hornak said.

That multi-modal biometric system uses three devices, making a security breech less likely, he said.

Biometrics is an interdisciplinary field, which makes the proximity of the lab to WVU and other universities a plus, Hornak said.

"That's what we can bring to this," he said. "We can bring in other disciplines to help with the research."

More information about biometrics is available on the Internet at the U.S. government's Biometric Consortium Web site at www.biometrics.org.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404.

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