Now Microsoft Has Your Fingerprints!!!


The Microsoft Fingerprint Reader is for people who want to see what biometrics are all about, on a most basic level, or for some skilled hacker (more on that later). Microsoft has produced this USB fingerprint reader, similar to Lenovo/IBM’s version that comes as part of its notebooks. The device has a smaller footprint than a credit card and is about 1 cm, or a little less than ½ inch thin. It connects to your computer via a USB connector, but Microsoft does include a PS/2 adapter, should you need it. There’s a CD-Rom for software (DigitalPersona Password Manager 1.0). The package currently retails for $35-45.

Once loaded, the user gets asked to enter their fingerprints a number of times to ensure accuracy, and in the taskbar a little icon appears that looks remarkably like Hal 9000. (This will thrill any conspiracy buffs out there.) Microsoft recommends, and I haven’t even tested whether it will allow you to do so, that you don’t use it for networking or security passwords. Additionally, you are not encouraged to use it on financial websites. In other words, it’s not such a secure example of biometrics.

When you visit a website for the first time, you put your finger on the reader and the program will ask you for the username and password you use for that website and which button to select once confirmation has been made. After that, you’re ready to go. Of course, you will have to do the same setup with each browser you’re using. Oh! Did I mention that it appears to be cross-browser compatible. Pretty cool. It’s worked with Mozilla, Firefox, IE 6 and IE 7 so far. (Opera goes untested. Sorry.)

But here’s the rub: the process isn’t fast. On most sites, if not all, it takes several seconds between the finger authentication and subsequent site verification. Basically, once you’ve set up the reader for a website and you visit that website, you can put your finger on the reader. Upon reading your fingerprint, he program will produce a “confirmation” chime. You wait for the auto-fill of the username and password and then the program automatically clicks the button to enter. For whatever reason, this process takes considerably longer than me typing in my username and password. Moreover, the device is marketed as a manager for those myriad usernames and passwords we all have. Well, frankly, I don’t have that many. I have maybe three different usernames and four or five passwords at a given time. Being a fairly conscious human being, I’ve been relatively capable of handling the task of remembering the various combinations I have out there.

That’s not to say there isn’t some use for it. And it’s not to say there aren’t people out there that, conceivably, might want to use it for exactly what it’s intended. It just doesn’t suit me. I would love to think someone might be able to take this device and make it into something more useful, which might show up on Slashdot.org. But, I’m not terribly imaginative in these types of things.

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