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A new approach to biometrics

When you think of biometrics, you probably think of a costly, privacy-concern-raising appliance that scans fingerprints at the entrance to a building.

But Privaris, a Fairfax, Va.-based vendor, is taking a new approach to the much-hyped — but so far underwhelming — technology, with hopes of changing that perception. The company’s universal biometric device, called plusID, doesn’t require any major infrastructure changes or appliance installations, CEO John Petze said. Instead, the device works with existing security systems to control physical access to buildings and user access to computers and networks.

Here’s how plusID works, as described by Petze: The device, a handheld token, features a fingerprint sensor. When you get to work in the morning, for example, you put your finger up to your device. When a match is confirmed, it releases a signal in the same way that a traditional access card would, unlocking the door to your building. (Privaris has an agreement with leading card maker HID Corp., so plusID is compatible with its systems.) Then, when you get to your computer, you attach your device with a USB cable and scan your fingerprint again. When it matches, you are logged into the system without having to enter a password — or remember one, for that matter.

plusID also includes the technology to be used as a next-generation contact-free credit card, but Privaris does not yet have an agreement with a credit card company, Petze said.

Privaris will begin deploying plusID next week and has about 25 channel partners already lined up. Even in cases where Privaris sells direct, partners will have opportunities to integrate plusID into customers’ existing identity management systems, Petze said. It can also help value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators (SIs) looking to ease their way into the physical security market, he said.

The device’s biggest selling points are that nobody else can use it if you lose it, there is no central database that stores everyone’s fingerprints and it costs less to deploy than a traditional biometric security system.

“It’s not screwing some big black box beside the door,” Petze said. “That has a lot of issues associated with it.”

But he acknowledges that selling plusID won’t be easy.

“The most rewarding and frustrating comment we get is, ‘Wow, I never imagined you could use biometrics this way,'” he said. “It’s a huge part of our challenge.”

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