Comdex Report: The Password Is Passé

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LAS VEGAS--One of the most fascinating product categories on display at this week's Comdex trade show is biometrics, technology that uses physical characteristics, such as fingerprints and facial features, to uniquely identify people. The most obvious application is user authentication: rather than entering a password, you can speak, sign your name, or have your fingerprint scanned to gain access to secured data or other sensitive material. All of these techniques were demonstrated in the Comdex Biometrics Hot Spot, a section of the show floor co-sponsored by International Biometric Group, a consulting firm.

Although Apple offers a spoken-password feature in Mac OS 9, biometrics is still largely a PC-based technology. However, one of the exhibiting companies, CompuLink Research, demonstrated the U-Match BioLink Mouse, a two-button mouse that incorporates a fingerprint sensor. The mouse scans your fingerprint to determine your identity, automatically providing access to programs, files, or Web sites that would otherwise require a password. The company plans to release a Windows version early next year, followed a few months later by a Mac version. CompuLink hasn't announced pricing for the Mac version, but the PC version will range from $99 to $129 depending on which software options you select.

Most of the biometric action appears to revolve around fingerprint verification. About a dozen companies in Comdex's biometric section, including Keytronic and NEC Technologies, demonstrated such systems. Among other exhibitors, Visionics showed FaceIt, a family of software products that use facial-recognition technology to identify authorized users, and Net Nanny Software demonstrated BioPassword LogOn, Windows NT software that identifies people by analyzing their typing rhythms.

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