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Terrorism, viruses, hackers -- electronic sabotage abounds in various forms. And because companies are feeling increasingly at risk, all eyes have turned to the makers of electronic security systems.

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The finger scanner could soon replace passwords

At last year’s CeBIT, the security section had a relatively low profile, but this year the "IT Security & Card Technology" ranks among the most popular display categories.

Although the September 11 attacks in the U.S. certainly play a role in the increased interest in the security business, the trend to safer, more controlled access to electronic data and restrictive areas has been around for the last few years. This year the topic is just more visible than before.

Filling an entire exhibition hall, some 300 exhibitors have brought their latest advances in security tools and services to CeBIT. From encryption software to virus protection systems, smart credit card applications and surveillance cameras, everything is targeted at staff responsible for corporate IT and security systems.

This year biometrics devices, systems that analyze and recognize individual human characteristics such as signatures, fingerprints and facial features, are particularly popular.

Controlling access

Biometrie

Once the stuff of science fiction films, these high-tech identification gadgets are entering the market in restricted-access areas such as airports, government buildings, police departments and power plants.

Siemens, one of the leading companies in the field, has been producing such devices since 1996. Many of its products are already in use in major German and international companies as well as at entrances to nuclear plants.

Other companies are less well-known but equally as innovative. Cherry, for example, is a German company that works with Siemens to produce the software behind the company’s fingerprint recognition system.

There are several products out on the market, but no real consumer drive to buy them yet. Right now only big businesses concerned about security breeches are going in for biometrics.

"Biometrics is still in the early stages of development. In two to three years it will be really big," says Reinhard Fischer of Cherry. Then everyone, from big to small business and public to private will be investing in it.

Forgotten your password?

Everyone’s had it happen at one point. A computer password is so easy to forget. Most of us have it written down somewhere, and several of us have shared it with someone else. But that defeats the purpose of a personal entry code, says Fischer.

Cherry, like many other security companies, is hoping to attract consumers with what is an inevitable human fault: forgetfulness and the inability to keep a secret.

"If it’s used correctly, the password is enough of a security control for most companies. The problem is, too many people abuse it," Fischer says.

To make up for human fallacy, Cherry has developed the Fingertip ID Board for office work. It looks like a normal keyboard - except in the upper right hand corner, where a small reflective square reminds the user to enter a fingerprint.

The system functions just like a password. Once the correct fingerprint is entered, it takes just a few seconds before the computer starts up and the user can start working.

Technically, the fingerprint recognition system reads and measures several different points on the fingertip. It then compares these points to others it has in its databank until it finds the closest possible match.

For companies especially concerned about controlling electronic access, Cherry also makes a dual security keyboard combining chip card and fingerprint.

"There’s really no end to the security measures. There’s technology for recognizing digital signatures and facial features. At some point we will have devices to identify the iris and even the way people move when they sit in front of the computer," says Fischer.

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