Barclays and Hitachi have announced a biometric reader, which scans the unique vein patterns in a finger as part of an effort to fight fraud with a more secure take on fingerprint scanning.
The Barclays Biometric Reader consists of a SIM card that holds the unique vein structure information of a single user, and a small infra-red scanner. By using Hitachi's VeinID technology the reader captures the image of the vein pattern in a user's finger, which, like a fingerprint, is unique to individuals.
Ashok Vaswani, CEO for Barclays Personal and Corporate Banking, explained that the biometric reader offers a more secure alternative to fingerprint scanning.
"The blood in your finger is very unique to yourself – it's actually more unique than your fingerprint," Vaswani explained, describing the technology as "very, very simple; yet very, very secure."
Unlike fingerprints, the internal structure of veins are very difficult to reproduce artificially and the scanner only operates if there is a constant blood flow to the finger, meaning the severed finger of a finance officer could not be used to bypass the device's authentication.
Testing by the partnered companies revealed that it would take a million attempts before the device fails or runs the risk of misidentifying someone's vein pattern. According to Vaswani, a fingerprint scanner only requires 20 false scanning attempts before it fails.
Demonstrating how the device is used, Michael Mueller, Barclays' head of cash management, said the scanner was designed to be very simple and remove complexity from security authentication. He added: "It is so simple that it doesn't really wow anyone."
In 2015, the reader will be offered to corporate banking clients who will be able to access their bank accounts and authorise payments without the need for PINs, passwords or other authentication.
Banks in Japan, the US and Europe are already using VeinID, but the combination of a biometric reader and digital signature technology is a first for the world's financial sector. According to Hitachi, the company dominates biometrics in Japan, holding 80 percent of the market.
Both companies believe there is a wider potential to use the biometrics scanner in the consumer sector and integrate it with mobile devices.
Vaswani said Barclays is testing out different platforms for the vein scanner, adding: "Biometrics is the way to go in the future, there is no question of that."
Despite developing the scanner with Hitachi in the space of nine months, it might be a while before the technology percolates thorough the banking sector. "Right now the way the reader is configured lends itself nicely for the corporate use," explained Vaswani.
Barclays and Hitachi were also keen to emphasise how the biometric data recorded by the scanner was strictly stored on the SIM card and not held by Barclays.
Ben Edgington, senior information systems manager at Hitachi, told V3 that neither company has any desire to hold the biometric data of its customers. He added: "Biometric data should rest with the individual, and in this context it rests on the SIM card, and that SIM card rests with the individual."
To many, fingerprint scanners may seem like a robust enough security solution for everyday use, and adding vein readers into the mix might be a redundant security step.
However, it was recently revealed that the fingerprint scanner on Samsung's Galaxy S5 flagship smartphone was hacked, raising questions over how effective such biometrics are for device security.
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