COMDEX - Biometrics puts a face (or a finger) on security |  Security, Network access control

LAS VEGAS - Fresh concerns about security have put fingerprint readers, iris scanners and other biometrics gear on the front burner at this year's Comdex, where businesses can choose from a raft of products for securing access to buildings and computer networks.

Products on show for guarding PCs and networks include an iris scanner from Panasonic Corp. and a computer mouse from Siemens AG with a built-in fingerprint reader. The systems often include software for granting access privileges on a per-user basis to files and applications. Other IT-related products were offered here to authenticate parties at each end of an Internet transaction.

For organizations looking to keep physical intruders at bay, a raft of access systems were shown, some of which can be bolted onto existing security systems without having to rewire buildings, according to vendors here.

Niche markets were also served. Members of the Los Angeles Police Department made their way to Las Vegas Wednesday to inspect a prototype gun holster with a built-in fingerprint scanner, said Lennart Carlson, president and chief executive officer of Sweden's Fingerprint Cards AB, which helped develop the product. The idea is that if the wrong person reaches in to draw the pistol, the holder won't release the gun.

Biometrics firms here said business was already brisk before the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Improvements in how reliable products are and how far they can scale, combined with the expanding use of the Internet, have helped push biometrics beyond the government, financial, medical and transportation industries and into the "commercial early adopter" stage, said Grant Evans, executive vice president for global strategy with Identix Inc.

New laws passed since the attacks that require airports, trucking firms and other businesses to monitor employees more closely have greatly fueled the growth, while concerns about individual privacy have eased somewhat, particularly in the U.S.

"People are willing to put their finger on a scanner; they weren't so willing to do that before Sept. 11," said Thor Christensen, president and CEO of Biometrix Inc, which showed its network security software being used with Siemens' ID Mouse.

The attacks also affected the type of products in demand. Interest in equipment for guarding PCs and networks increased slightly, while equipment for securing buildings, particularly at airports, rose dramatically. Also in greater demand are applicant screening services, which fingerprint current and potential employees and run the results against an FBI database of known offenders, Evans said.

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