Biometric Door Locks, or the recognition of the identity of someone based on a biological aspect of a person, is actually a very old technology. We use biometrics everyday when we use the ‘computer’ that we call the human mind: for example, when we recognize someone by looking at his or her face, or when we check a written signature against what we trust to be a bona-fide copy of a signature. The futuristic feel of biometric technology comes about when we match the traditional biometric approach with the new capabilities that we have in electronics. Now we can use electronic devices to make biometric judgements about the authenticity of a person—that is, “is person x who they say they are?” Since the information and digital age is upon us, the technology has come about that makes authentication exceptionally accurate, and potentially a much more reliable means of authenticating a person than traditional, human-judgement based biometrics.
Fingerprint Scanning Biometric Door Locks
The newest consumer item is a biometric access control device that scans a person’s fingerprint in order to allow access to a property, or even to a vehicle. High-tech industry commentators are seeing biometrics as the new emergent technology that will eventually replace, or at least be offered alongside all other forms of access control (such as keys, or electronic access control devices based upon PIN code keypads, magnetic card swiping, or Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tokens/key-fobs). One of the principle reasons for this is that the Biometric Door Locks potentially offers an entry control solution that is free of the typical problems that beset older technologies.
That advantage might be simply avoiding that horrible feeling you get when you are standing at your front door and can’t find your keys, or when you have so many PINS in your head that you can’t remember the right one to gain access to a property. Maybe it is when the so-called magnetic stripe card has lost its magnetic properties, or you have lost the card; or when a RFID key-fob has run out of batteries, is stolen, or simply just fails to communicate to the lock. Biometrics could be advantageous for those that have physical difficulty with the operation of any of these older technologies. With biometrics, all you need is a finger, placed upon a small screen that scans the fingerprint, and then you then gain access to your property.
This is a relatively new technology for the consumer marketplace, and so if you are thinking of trying a biometric access control device, it pays to be cautious in terms of the unit that you select. What do you need to look for? Knowing this might mean the difference between having a new and more amiable relationship with your front door, or one which ends with a lot of frustration, as you imitate Jack Nicholson in an axe-wielding duplication of the “Here’s Johnny” scene from the movie “The Shining”. Hence, the following are some things to think about when selecting a biometric device.
When to Use Biometric EAC
The wide range of benefits in not carrying or using keys or other physical devices cannot be described in much detail here — and most people can instantly think of a list of benefits for their own home. Suffice it to say, the potential advantages may be many and varied. They may range from potential increased accessibility for the disabled, for the elderly and young children, through to benefits obtained in our “great Aussie beach culture”, where many will see it as ideal to be able to go to the beach and not have to take along a set of keys (or other devices that could be lost or stolen).
Some applications can achieve huge benefits from implementing a Biometric Door Locks, where inventory control of keys or other devices over an ever changing clientele would be “a nightmare” or just prohibitively expensive. A few examples are day-care centres, schools, industrial complexes and corporate offices, and high security government and commercial operations. The USA’s “Disneyland” (and also the Hong Kong location) have implemented a fingerprint scanning system called “Ticket Tag” to control all of its visitors, with the system controlling the complex array of access levels depending upon what kinds of tickets the visitors purchase.
Hotels can also strongly benefit from eliminating the need to maintain key or card inventories, whilst freeing the guest from having either to carry or to check keys at reception every time they enter/exit the building. Computer networks can remotely control some biometric locks, and some locks are programmable to delete a guests’ authority to access a room automatically, after a specified time interval. Many biometric devices have built in “audit trails”, which can keep track of entries by user, date and time, as well as employee tracking. This can be useful to prevent “buddy bundying” in workplaces, or provide a form of surveillance over children for concerned parents. The potential uses and benefits of biometrics are only limited by the imagination, and some benefits may make a world of difference when compared to older technologies.
Fortunately, in most applications, biometric technology is a suitable replacement for older technologies, and Biometric Door Locks can offer a versatile access control solution for residential, government and commercial/industrial situations. However, there are a few exceptions. A case occurred a few years ago where a British prison invested in biometric fingerprint scanning devices to control access through the internal parts of the prison. Because the biometric device selected for the prison was not accurate, inmates were quick to exploit the weakness of the particular device, which simply did not have a good enough discrimination between different fingers to be able to keep prisoners out. Consequently, they were able to gain access to unauthorised internal areas. (The important topic of the accuracy of biometric devices is discussed immediately below.)
Whilst overall prison security was not compromised, for a short while the prison black market flourished. Some commentators on this event rightly noted that a prison was not an entirely good place to have a biometric device, since some prisoners might not hesitate to cut off a guard’s finger, if it meant access to freedom (or in some cases, an extra carton of cigarettes). It is certainly the last place that I would want to install biometric access control, but not necessarily for security concerns, because biometric modules can sometimes discriminate between a connected and a severed finger, based upon measurements such as body temperature reading. The primary reason for not installing such devices in prison is simply that inmates might erroneously perceive that they could use the severed finger to access their freedom, and—irrespective of their success in escape—the false perception alone might work much to an unlucky prison officer’s detriment.
Physical attributes may sometimes not marry well with biometric technology. One visitor to Disney had problems with the readers because she had lymphodema in her right arm, which was the one she selected to have the fingers scanned. When her arm swelled during the course of the day, her fingers expanded and became different fingers in the eyes of the biometric scanner. A simple cure in her case would have been to use the arm that did not swell, but it does give an insight into a problem that could occur for some users. Very rarely, people have little actual fingerprint which can confuse some biometric readers, resulting in the poor operation of the device for such a user.
In purchasing a biometric lock one must be careful to select a brand of device that has high levels of accuracy, or to put it another way, low levels of error. In Biometric Door Locks, there are two typical measurements made regarding biometric error: that of FRR or “False Reject Ratio” and FAR or “false acceptance ratio”. The lower each ratio or rate, the better the biometric product.
FRR is also known as the “insult rate”, and this is quite an appropriate term. It involves the amount of times that you are insulted by your door lock, as it erroneously but calmly beeps to inform you that you are not actually you, but rather a pretender to the throne. FRR equates directly to the usability of the device. An enrolled user (that is, someone whose fingerprint is held within the memory of the lock or lock control as an authorised entrant) should be permitted entrance easily. If a biometric device has a low FRR, then it should not require a series of attempts before you can enter your home or workplace. A high FRR or insult rate biometric can be a frustrating device to live with.
The second measure of accuracy, FAR, is critical. It relates to the security provided by the device. How easy is it for the fingerprint of another user—an actual “pretender to the throne”—to get into the device? How easy is it for a mimicking technology to fool the lock into thinking it is the real finger? A high FAR or fraud rate can be a security violation just waiting to happen.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
In purchasing a biometric lock, look carefully at the FAR and FRR rates. They should both be as low as possible. However, it also pays to consider the way in which the specifications are gathered. Some biometric locks use what might be called a “security setting” in order to compromise between fingerprint discrimination and authorised users ease of entry: that is to say, a setting that allows you to trade off performance between either false insults or false permission granted to unauthorised parties. In my opinion an altogether bad thing to have on a biometric device, because the user should not have to be forced to tweak with crucial settings: it should all be purely automatic. Performance of a biometric lock should be about achieving both levels of accuracy at the same time, because that is what is demanded in the real world. Manufacturers that build an adjustment level into their device are possibly trying to attain better performance figures for their product than what they can deliver in practice.
It also pays not to be too serious about the performance specifications that are offered by manufacturers. Whilst they might serve as a useful guideline, the specification that states, for example, a “1:10000 false reject ratio” might never attain such performance in practice. Such performance figures are based upon a mix of empirical data and mathematical analyses. The best thing to do is to test the model with your fingerprint, place the enrolled finger into the device and gain entry a number of times, and see how repeatable it is.
If your finger scans are repeatedly permitted in until you get tired of testing the entry operation, then chances are the lock is going to be easy to live with. If you find a lock that only beeps a denial of entry and requires you to rescan one time in a hundred, it would be safe to say that this is going to be a good lock to use on an everyday basis. Rare physical attributes (as noted earlier) can sometimes confuse some biometric readers. So test first, and make sure the product is specifically suitable for your fingers.
Another indicator of reliability might be to check with the supplier as to who makes the biometric module within the biometric device. Are they a reputable and recognised source of high technology hardware?
Biometric Ease of Use
It is not much good having a biometric device if you need the proverbial Ph.D. in order to use it. Some locks are so complex to use that even watching a video of the steps required to operate the device (let alone program it) is a confusing thing. Of course, the ease with which you can use a biometric device contributes to or detracts much in terms of how happy you will be with your purchase. Look for a large and easy to see screen, with controlling functions being menu navigated in an intuitive way. If the Biometric Door Locks are set up like, for example–the most user-friendly mobile phones or digital cameras, with features such as four way navigational keypads, then it is likely to be user friendly. Try to ensure that if you want to get to a function, you do not need both a user’s manual and a penchant for astrophysics: rather, that you just need the ability to read a simple menu and press navigation keys or selection buttons.
Don’t neglect the outside operating interface either, when it comes to choosing a good biometric device. If the unit has an industry standard numeric keypad on the outside lock body, this is indicative of easy entry control when you choose to use a pin number instead of, or in addition to, a fingerprint scan. A full keypad at the front of the device is also indicative that entering numbers into the biometric device (for programming basic operations) will be an easier thing than one that only has a few buttons and does not properly represent the full range of numeric digits (0-9).
Biometrics and Privacy
There has been some justifiable concern raised by privacy advocates and in the press more generally, about privacy concerns related to biometrics usage. Look for biometric units that do not capture and process merely the image of the fingerprint but rather use “minutiae points”, which are very specific details taken from a finger scan. A biometric device works with minutiae points by immediately capturing particular facets of the finger and fingerprint, followed by mathematical analysis of—and then encrypted encoding—of those facets. Therefore, such a biometric device is not actually comparing pictures, but rather the very specific data that it has collected. Drawing data from the biometric system can result in little but the gathering of useless data, rather than compromising the biometric data of an individual. Some locks and the network software programs that attach to them (if they are network capable) will also allow lock programming so that a guest user is only kept in memory for a specified period of time. At the end of that period, the fingerprint minutiae data is automatically purged from the system.
Biometrics Durability & Appearance
Durability is quite straightforward. Take a good look at the lock: is it protected from the elements? Some locks have sliding covers that protect the biometric scanning window and buttons from dust, dirt, water and so on. Is the body made well? Some locks have thicker walls of alloy in their construction to make them stronger; some have plastic parts that make the unit more vulnerable. Is the finish constructed to last? Some biometrics have “nanotech” finishes that make them as high-tech on the outside as they are on the inside, and make them very resistant to scratches that can make them less appealing. Solidly constructed locks that are based on a mortise design may be a little more expensive, but are the most robust in terms of security—which is of course what they are there for at the end of the day.
This leads to the final criterion you should consider when purchasing a lock: is it attractive, and does it visually complement (or burden) your premises. Regrettably, it seems that many biometric door locks were designed with functionality in mind, and little or no consideration was given to appearance: but there is no rule set in stone that a biometric device has to be ugly; and some units are beautiful and elegant, and make a strong statement upon any front door.
When everything is taken into account, taking the step to adopt this new Biometric Door Locks technology can be a rewarding experience: just be careful that you select the right device for you, your situation and your “aesthetic sensibilities”. Chances are you will be very much rewarded for your care in purchase, and you’ll be able to really enjoy the best things that this new and exciting technology can provide.