Biometrics targeted for wireless devices

A new security venture has a plan to keep costs down on client-side authentication for wireless devices by getting back-end e-commerce providers to pick up the bill.

A new security venture has a plan to keep costs down on client-side authentication for wireless devices by getting back-end e-commerce providers to pick up the bill.

iTrust, a subsidiary of Identix Inc., offers server-side biometric authenticated transaction services to the wireless e-commerce marketplace. In addition to authentication, iTrust will provide validation, transaction management and content control services. The company will officially launch a product called the Global Authentication Server at Comdex in November.

Such services work only if biometric devices, such as fingerprint readers made by Identix, are attached to mobile devices. But makers of cell phones, personal digital assistants and laptops have been slow to incorporate such security. PC Cards for laptops are starting to appear, but the cell phone industry has shown few signs of supporting the technology because it is expensive. Nokia, for example, for more than two years has been demonstrating a prototype phone that includes biometric security to show that it's possible but has yet to launch it.

"We can deliver something for less than $20, but that's still expensive for the cell phone industry," said Grant Evans, vice president and general manager for the security and iTrust divisions of Identix, in Sunnyvale, Calif. "They want it for less than a dollar ... so you must have a business model that allows you to play that game."

iTrust's service works on a leased subscription basis, with e-commerce companies paying a small fee each time a customer completes a transaction.

Evans expects e-commerce companies to buy into the services because most of them already have a budget set aside to cover fraud charges. iTrust's pitch is that customers could eliminate that cost if all transactions were secure.

"Credit card fraud is up ... in the Internet world over the physical world," Evans tells his customers. "With freedom and anonymity [of wireless communications], security becomes a bigger problem."

If enough companies sign up for the service, Identix will be able to charge less for the biometric devices that it markets to hardware makers. This, iTrust hopes, will drive up the number of devices with biometric capabilities. iTrust has yet to sign up any Web customers, however.

On the hardware side, only Motorola Inc. has announced plans to build devices for iTrust services, but Evans expects more OEMs to sign on. With costs slowly coming down for biometric technology, and if back-end customers foot the bill for some of these costs, "we'll be giving [biometric readers] away in the very near future," he said.