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Your fingerprint is your password

Key Tronic launches a line of fingerprint scanning devices designed to authenticate the identity of users.

Key Tronic (KTCC), a manufacturer of keyboards and other computer input devices, has launched a line of fingerprint scanning devices designed to authenticate the identity of users.

Initially, the devices will be marketed for health care and financial services, where assuring that only the right individuals see sensitive data is a major concern. But Key Tronic and its joint venture partner, National Registry (NRID), hope the technology will appeal to mainstream computer buyers as prices decline.

Biometric devices, such as Key Tronic's, are seen as an alternative to using passwords and personal identification numbers to authenticate users of networks and computer systems. NRI's software prevents unauthorized individuals from using or gaining access to sensitive data.

The product line includes NRI software, keyboards with scanning devices built in, and standalone devices. In addition, a separate camera unit called a "frame grabber" or scanner is required to create the master image stored in a database to check against potential users. The frame grabber will be built directly into the next generation of the products, according to Key Tronics product manager Norm Morse.

The companies plan a future version that will incorporate the same technology into a PC card for laptop computers.

The Mayo Clinic's Jacksonville, Florida, operations, the Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and Kaiser Permanente's Pasadena, California, operations will test the keyboards in pilot programs for secure medical records. A unit of Barclays Bank in the United Kingdom also is evaluating the keyboards and NRI software for evaluation.

Priced at $400 to $500 each, the devices will be distributed through resellers of computer distribution house Tech Data. Key Tronic said the cost is less than half that of similar devices currently used for security by the federal government and the military.

Key Tronic and NRI also said they will incorporate finger imaging technology from Veridicom into future software and hardware products. Veridicom is a venture-capital funded spin-off of Lucent Technologies that will develop and sell patented fingerprint authentication technology from Bell Laboratories.