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PassMark picks up voice authentication

The online security company will buy Vocent and add its biometric voice recognition technology to its authentication services.

PassMark Security has agreed to acquire Vocent Solutions, a move that will let it add Vocent's biometric voice authentication to its own Internet ID verification.

Under the deal, announced Wednesday, PassMark will purchase almost all the assets of Vocent, which it plans to integrate with its own technology by mid-2006. PassMark provides authentication for Internet transactions, based on two factors: a password and a device such as a computer. Vocent verifies people's identities using biometric voice prints and recognition of the user's phone, a combination known as a "voice token."

Vocent's technology will allow PassMark to expand its authentication services, the company said. For example, people will be able to verify their identity not just with a password-device combination, but also through a third means, such as the imprint of their voice or recognition of their phone number, said Mark Goines, PassMark's chief marketing officer.

This additional layer of authentication could be used by a bank if a customer was trying to undertake a large financial transaction, for example, Goines said.

"The acquisition will provide a true multichannel authentication platform, securely identifying customers whether they are using the Internet or the phone," Bill Harris, PassMark chairman, said in a statement.

In addition, PassMark plans to introduce authentication for people when they are using devices not registered with the company. For example, customers who access their bank account from an Internet cafe could receive a phone call as part of the process. They could then be identified via a voiceprint, the phone they are using, or their phone number.

Vocent technology has people register their identity by speaking numbers and words into a phone. A mathematical algorithm is then taken of the person's voice. When the customer tries to authenticate a transaction using Vocent's technology, they are asked to repeat certain words or numbers, and that is matched against the algorithm, Goines said.

One security analyst noted that voice recognition technology has been around for a decade and that using the technology for two-factor authentication makes sense.

"A few years ago, a company call Authentify began experimenting with voice tokens to register people for online services. Now the (industry's voice recognition) technologies are good enough to finally put together a package for the Internet," said Steve Hunt, president of 4A International, a security consulting firm.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, the combined company will have approximately 40 employees.

PassMark is based in Menlo Park, Calif., and serves such customers as Bank of America and the Stanford Federal Credit Union. Vocent is based in Mountain View, Calif., and its customers include U.S. Bank and Washington Mutual.