Home Office agency buys biometric security

Summary:Staff at the Home Office's Security Industry Authority now use their fingerprints to access its computer network

The Home Office's Security Industry Authority (SIA) has announced a deal with ISL Biometrics to install biometric technology for network access.

Biometric authentication systems have been installed to give remote workers and office staff access to their laptops and PCs without the need for passwords.

The SIA is a newly formed organisation that regulates and licenses the private security industry and has opted for a biometric authentication system to boost its own security.

Tim O'Neill, assistant director for IT, said: "Previously we had a good password system... but the simple fact is, no matter how well generated a password is, it's still insecure." With biometrics, the SIA can audit who has been using each computer, with any requests for access to another member of staff's PC being approved by management.

The change to biometrics has also stopped password bad practice by removing the temptation to write down log-in details or share them with colleagues. "After all, you can't go away on holiday and lend someone your finger," O'Neill said.

The SIA hasn't encountered many users with problems authenticating themselves with the biometric system, apart from with staff too hasty to take their finger off the reader and staff members applying hand cream, resolved by a change of reader.

O'Neill said that staff had reacted positively to the biometrics. The ISL Biometrics system doesn't actually store images of the staff's fingers, sidestepping fears over Big Brother.

And while security rather than cost was the principle idea behind the rollout, the introduction of biometrics should nevertheless put a few quid back into the SIA's pocket. By getting rid of passwords and people forgetting them, SIA has seen savings on its helpdesk and IT support because staff no longer need their password details to be reset.

Topics: Innovation


Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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