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Sony offers tighter data security with fingerprint scanner

The company's new fingerprint authentication device is designed to trump passwords and other less advanced forms of security.

    Sony today announced a new fingerprint authentication device designed to trump passwords and other less advanced forms of security.

    Sony's FIU-700 is a credit card-sized device that verifies the user's fingerprints to allow access to networks, computers or individual applications. The add-on device can be connected to a computer via the USB port and works with either Windows 98 or Windows 2000.

    The new fingerprint verification device is the latest indication that biometrics, the use of physical characteristics such as fingerprints, retinal patterns or voice, is gaining momentum as companies seek to use the highest levels of security to protect valuable information stored on corporate computers and networks.

    Sony said the device will be targeted at sectors that require high levels of security, including e-commerce, health care, law firms and defense contractors.

    "Sony envisions a number of applications in the near and long term for this technology, particularly in e-commerce, Internet and corporate security," Andre Mougis, senior vice president at Sony, said in a statement today.

    But analysts question whether there is an actual need for this type of futuristic technology, as passwords are still considered secure enough for most corporate needs. Biometrics does solve other corporate problems, though, such as dealing with lost or stolen passwords.

    Earlier this month, Microsoft announced it would support biometric security in upcoming versions of its Windows operating systems, the first significant move by the software maker to embrace biometrics.

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    Microsoft struck a pact with I/O Software to integrate the company's Biometric API (application programming interface) directly into Windows operating systems. Windows users could opt to have their identities verified through fingertips or other physical characteristics, rather than traditional passwords.

    Sony said today it also is working with I/O Software, along with Entrust Technologies, to develop security applications for its fingerprint identifier.

    The FIU-700 is even more secure than previous versions, Sony said, because the fingerprints are stored on the device, rather than on networks which could be hacked into.