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Trends in 2016

Economic crisis or not, the security sector is full of activity and research continues apace. Some interesting developments are in the pipeline in terms of both technologies and applications. Smart cards will get smarter, contactless will go long-range, biometrics will boom, applications will integrate and the mobile phone will join the arsenal of ID credentials along with cards and tags, writes Charles Balcomb, managing director of the identity card product company Databac.

UHF (ultra-high frequency) technology is making tentative forays into barcode territory. Its long read range coupled with a low manufacturing cost makes it a more advanced, flexible and versatile contender in situations such as luggage tracking and inventory control in shops. It is also highly robust: a UHF tag can be read through water and when attached to metal. UHF has been around for a while, but the international standard EPC Generation 2 makes the technology that much more viable, not only across the supply chain, but also for the identification and tracking of people.

Gen 2 enables the design of small antenna configurations that fit on the smallest of vials, while anti-collision algorithms mean that scanning a large stack of products does not present any difficulties. This brings obvious advantages to pharmaceutical supply chains, for example, where a single technology can be used throughout, from product to pallet, streamlining the process and making it that much more secure.

In terms of people, UHF has huge potential in applications that involve long-range identification. For example, passive UHF wristbands are enabling accurate identification of patients going into surgery. They are also being used for real-time tracking of people at events, ensuring that attendee numbers comply with health and safety regulations. Beyond security applications, thanks to improvements in UHF reader design, UHF is now being used in retail environments for asset tagging, tracking and payment. As usage grows, ever more inventive applications will appear. The barcode is not about to disappear, however. Its price and practicality secure its position in the market for many years to come. UHF usage across the supply chain may now be a real possibility, but it may be some time before all those involved adopt the technology in favor of the existing standard.

Nor will existing RF technologies be phased out. On the contrary: read-only 125KHz will still have its place, as the readers are more economical than UHF readers and price will dictate the need for these products. Read/write 13,56MHz (Legic, NXP, etc) is very established in the market, with a large user base and a huge number of complementary products.

Where contact chip cards are concerned, high-end products like Java Card (JCOP 21/31) will be on demand for multiple secure applications, while dual interface cards will push combined contact and NFC (near-field communications) applications. UHF’s many advantages should nevertheless ensure it finds a place alongside barcode and chip technologies, perhaps not in a logistical setting to begin with, but more likely initially for the identification of people.

Biometric boom

Identity theft has become a big driver in the uptake of biometric technologies. As public resistance to biometrics starts to ebb and the Big Brother fear factor recedes, biometric verification starts to take its rightful place as one of the most secure methods of identification. Iris, facial and fingerprint biometrics are now widely used in most countries for fail-safe identification in immigration / cross border control and passport applications.

Fingerprint systems are already widely used and accepted, and are evolving to the next level. Original concerns about fake fingerprints made out of latex, clay and rubber have been addressed, with readers and software using methods like infrared detection, skin capacitance imaging and measurement of pulse, temperature or blood pressure.

Systems that scan vein (or vascular) patterns have had limited success but may yet increase their market share. Convenient and secure, they are very user-friendly as a wave of the hand is all that is required by the user to log on to a PC or operate a system. Face and iris recognition have become easier to use and require nothing more than standing still for a few seconds. Use of this user-friendly technology is already established in crime prevention for identifying individuals in crowds, for example, though usage will become more mainstream and more one-on-one. In fact, facial recognition is increasingly used for secure access to high-security buildings and warehouses.

Of course, the combination of two or more biometric technologies – multimodal biometrics – is the ultimate in secure identification.

Yet the rise in biometrics (and mobile authentication) does not spell the death of the card, which it could be seen to replace. Instead, one will likely boost the other. Alarming news reports of lost records and data theft means that many people do not want their data to be stored in a place outside of their control. ‘Match-on-card’ and similar systems make this unnecessary.

With these systems, biometric and other data – including fingerprints, palm prints, photographs, personal data and access rights – are stored, not on a central database, but rather in a card or other device which the user keeps at all times. When users approach a reader, for example, they scan their fingerprint and card. The reader compares the fingerprint to the image held on the card. If it matches, access is granted. Even if such a card is stolen or lost, it would mean that only a single record is compromised and can easily be restored.

Multi-application systems

Whatever technologies are used to verify a person, one trend is forging ahead. Security systems are converging and merging with other systems. Access control, logical access, building automation, time and attendance, network logon, security and PKI are all becoming one. It is not surprising as they are not very different in essence. Each application requires the identification of an authorised person to activate a pre-programmed task, such as open a door, log the date and time, open a software program or switch on the air-conditioning.

Multi-application cards by Databac Group and other manufacturers have been around a long time, where a single card operates with various systems for different functions. Dual interface cards are the latest iteration of multi-application smart cards. Web-based systems are ideal for extended enterprises. Integrated security systems can leverage corporate intranets to enable them to function around the country or even worldwide. How users access these systems will differ, but a mixture of smart cards and biometrics is one likely scenario.

Can I read your mobile, please?

The vehicle for user ID is moving beyond traditional cards or tags or even the latest biometric readers. With the boom of mobile payment systems, mobile devices already incorporate security applications for facial and fingerprint recognition. This market will just get bigger and bigger, with new methods coming to the market such as cardiac ECG technology and improved iris recognition. Nowadays, many access systems can be used with mobile phones, where they are used just like any other credential. Thanks to near-field communication (NFC), an evolution of RFID technology, the mobile phone has become an effective device to access security systems. Apple, Google and Samsung all have smartphones with NFC and many more will follow. Beyond personal applications like instant messaging and taking photos, opening car doors, public transport and payment, its future includes corporate and security functions such as ID, access, clocking in and more.

Identifying data can be stored locally on a mobile for a possible ‘match-on-phone’ verification process. Picture the scenario: users activate their company mobile using their fingerprint and, on arriving at the office, hold the phone up to a chip reader, while speaking a voice code and standing still for a second for a facial scan. The system checks the voiceprint and facial image against the templates held on the phone and grants or denies access accordingly. It is not so far-fetched. Users would just need to ensure they keep their mobile charged up! Multimodal biometrics, with the real-time verification of data held on a chip within a card, tag or mobile phone, is tomorrow’s standard for banks and prisons. At some point in the future, DNA records may act as the main identifier, whereas the portable holographic projector is an ID verification method to be developed by future generations.

About the writer

Charles Balcomb, Managing Director, Databac, has been involved in the manufacture and application of identity cards and ID systems since 1981. He has worked on many new ID card developments, with an emphasis on the introduction of recyclable and durable cards into the market.


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