The pattern of ridges and valleys found in your fingerprint is unique to you – not even identical twins share the same fingerprint – and as such it is one of the most important pieces of biometric information that distinguishes you from everyone else.
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Using a person’s fingerprint as a means of identification is nothing new; it's been utilized for thousands of years. East Asian potters, for example, used to place their fingers on clay as it cured to show the work was theirs, and 19th Century criminologists used them to identify habitual criminals. It wasn’t until the 1970s that fingerprints were first used in automated technology to control physical access to buildings for instance.
Since then the technology has become incredibly popular and widespread – and it’s easy to see why. It offers a way to reduce fraud as well as providing protected access to physical and logistical properties. Unlike passwords or tokens, fingerprints can’t be stolen, guessed or lost making them highly precise and reliable. Furthermore, fingerprint readers are low cost, and the technology is easy to integrate.
Fingerprint scanners perform a very basic function; it images the fingertip and compares it against information from a previously scanned fingerprint. It equates the ridges and valleys of a fingerprint – which is dictated by genetics and environmental factors – against stored data.
They can be used in one of two ways, for verification or identification. A one-to-one comparison of an individual’s fingerprint sample with a stored reference template is performed if verification is required, to gain entry to a building for example. Identification would see a fingerprint sample compared against all the reference templates on file – like the Police’s National Fingerprint Database - to confirm a person’s identity, which occurs when the individual’s fingerprint matches any of the stored templates.
Unlocking your mobile phone is perhaps the most common use of fingerprint sensors. Toshiba first used the sensors in 2007, but it wasn’t until Apple released the iPhone 5S that the technology became more widespread. Not only are they used to verify identification for unlocking a phone, but such sensors are also used to buy apps, or gain entry to apps for baking or payment purposes. As far as phones go, the technology is designed to make life easier, but fingerprint sensors could benefit some organizations including healthcare, government, technology, and manufacturing organizations as well as institutions like universities and libraries – imagine being able to borrow a book using your fingerprint instead of a library card.
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Such technology could provide a means of identifying and tracking employees allowing the better and more efficient management of the workforce. Not only would it show that an individual is present when stated, but it also allows for the automated calculation of the number of hours worked (with the added benefits of reducing paper wastage and the number of human hours spent on manual reconciliation).
Biometric systems utilizing fingerprint sensors can be employed in building entry systems and could find use in ensuring the secure storage of medicines in healthcare environments. They could also be used to provide logical access to internal resources such as computers and systems containing confidential information or intellectual property. In a government setting, such systems might be utilized to help combat fraud and security breaches, thus safeguarding confidential data and reducing costs. It could also provide a flexible and precise means of digital proof of identity for numerous applications such as border control, voter registration and national identification cards. In the banking sector, fingerprint sensors could be used by customers to access in-branch services and establish links between them and their transactions. Such a system could also eliminate insider fraud as who could argue that they weren’t involved if their fingerprint provides undisputable proof otherwise.
Biometrics is one of the most swiftly growing fields in the information technology arena – it is forecast that the market will reach $23.54 billion by 2020 – with fingerprint technology predicted to remain the principal form of biometric technology. And it's easy to see why; the technology is cost-efficient, easily integrated, fast and highly accurate – after all, fingerprints can’t be lost, stolen or guessed, and are unique to every individual.
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