Comdex '99: Get ready for the biometric mouse!

Fingerprint-reading keypads and retina-scanning lasers -- may finally be ready for the enterprise

Biometric security -- fingerprint-reading keypads, retina-scanning lasers and the like -- may finally be ready for the enterprise.

Although biometric vendors showing their wares at Comdex in Las Vegas showed most of the same technologies last year -- and the year before that -- this year, something's different.

First, many corporate IT managers are finally getting concerned about authenticating their users.

Second, corporate budgets should begin opening up for such technologies after year 2000 projects are completed.

Third, and possibly the most important, some biometric developers believe they have hit on a biometric platform that will be widely accepted -- a fingerprint reader in a mouse.

"There's been so much hype, so much attention," said Kevin Tahan, an analyst at EBI Securities, in California who has been following biometrics for a little over four years. "I was so pleased to find the biggest market research firms making comments that, after Y2K, the biggest IT push is biometric security."

At Comdex, two biometric vendors, SafLink of Tampa, and SecuGen of San Jose will announce that ING Direct, a Toronto-based home banking company, is licensing their jointly developed fingerprint-reading mouse.

The SecuDesktop 1.4 mouse houses a glass fingerprint reader on its side. The mouse costs a little less than $100 (£60). Volume discounts can bring that down to $70.

ING Direct over the next few weeks will roll out 500 of the mice to its customers, said Arkadi Kuhlmann, president and CEO. Kuhlmann said he's curious to see how customers react to it and overcome problems such as smudges and coffee spills.

The mouse, he said, is a step in the right direction. "I like it because of the availability," Kuhlmann said. "It's probably fairly portable if people need it to be."

Other companies, such as Siemens AG, Motorola's Digital Imaging Division and NEC, are also working on mouse-based biometric systems. It's not the ideal solution but the most viable one yet, according to the companies.

"Our ultimate goal for all our biometric devices is to get rid of the external device and put it on your PC," said Lee Moser, business line manager at NEC, in Arlington. "But we'll evaluate a variety of different external devices."

There's still no concrete evidence that the biometric security market is going to take hold. But anecdotal evidence is growing. The American government, for example, recently allocated $15m for the implementation of biometric security.

For full coverage, see the Comdex '99 Special Report .