The Weapons of the Biological Identification Field

Vein layout, fingerprints, facial shape, the iris and pupil – a special review of the biometric identification field, which grows from year to year

The Weapons of the Biological Identification Field

ISIS, The Islamic State organization, “exports” its ideology and recruits new terrorists by proxy – ISIS “alumni” born in the West, Europe, USA, Australia and India, who return from Iraq and Syria to their countries in order to plan terrorist attacks and recruit new inductees. If no pinpoint intelligence is available about such a person, how can he be identified at the airport, sea port or border crossing? If no photograph, fingerprint, iris or palm print of that person is available anywhere, how can he be spotted out of millions of innocent passengers? Classic biometric measures, based on unique identification, is no longer the answer.

Shabtai Shoval, a founding partner of the SDS Company and a research associate at the Institute for Counterterrorism (ICT) of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Hertzliya, chose this contemporary example to describe Cogito, a system developed by SDS to identify terrorists and criminals at border crossings by sensing and recognizing their hostile intentions.

Cogit (Latin for “I think”) belongs in the category of biometric identification devices based on personal identification according to the subject’s physical or behavioral characteristics. Finger prints, facial features, the iris, palm, odor – all of these are physiological characteristics. Identifying a person’s typing rate, walk, voice or the way that person holds his/her mobile phone are biological-behavioral characteristics. These are the weapons of biometric identification, a method which is currently gaining momentum in Israel and worldwide, at border crossings, ports of entry, and as part of access control systems at vital installations, infrastructures or important and confidential defense/military facilities. Lenient users will check only one or two characteristics of the person seeking access, while stringent users will check several characteristics in order to ensure optimal positive identification.

Shoval explains that the product was developed on the basis of the lessons learned from 9/11: “The challenge was to enable security authorities to identify terrorists and/or criminals at border crossings by identifying hostile intentions.” The subject undergoes a process of automatic questioning (with no interrogator present) lasting no more than five to seven minutes. While the questions are being presented and the answers are being provided, uncontrollable psycho-physiological parameters are collected about the subject, according to which the system will determine whether to classify him/her as a suspect or allow him/her to pass. 

What are psycho-physiological parameters? 

“Physical manifestations of mental processes, like the rate of perspiration and salt percentage in a person’s sweat as a result of fear, increased blood pressure and pulse or dilation of the pupils as a result of agitation. Adrenaline secreted responding to a command from the brain is the cause of those phenomena,” says Shoavl. The Cogito system is in use by government and private clients like border police forces, intelligence agencies and airlines in Israel, the USA, Singapore, Latin America, Russia, India and countries in Africa.

Biometry or biometrics (Greek for “metrics of life”) means measuring personal characteristics like height, weight and hair color to verify identification. All of these characteristics can be checked and verified relatively easily, but they change with age. Security identification devices seek characteristics that do not change over time and characteristics that a person cannot alter at will, like facial features, eye shape, fingerprints, palm and voice. The vein system, nose and ear lobe shape are not just impossible to alter, but they also vary from one person to another, so they provide effective tools for biometric identification. We will see how these physiological-biometric characteristics are utilized in order to create highly sophisticated identification systems. An identification system consists of a technological device and a database. The technological device compares the subject against the data in the database. If the comparison is successful, the subject will be granted access/entrance. If no match is found between the subject and the database, he/she will not be granted access/entrance.

Several biological characteristic categories are currently used to identify a person:

Palm identification: an infrared beam scans the subject’s palm when he/she places his/her palm on the scanning device.

Iris identification: this device scans the ‘rings’ around the pupil, checking about 200 points to determine the subject’s identity.

Identification based on facial features: this method determines the facial shape and size and the ratios between the various facial features – nose, mouth, cheeks and ears.

Voice identification: the testing device analyzes the tone, volume, pitch and frequency of the subject’s voice to determine his/her identity.

This range of biometric identification measures constitutes the basis for the products offered by the Software Sources Company. CEO Haim Ron explains that the Israeli company distributes products by the Neuro Technology software house of Latvia. These biometric identification products are offered as development kits for software developers (SDK – Software Development Kit). Their range includes several such kits: VeriSpeak SDK for speech identification, VeriFinger SDK for fingerprint identification, VeriLook SDK for facial recognition and VeriEye SDK for pupil identification.

BioGuard of Israel specializes in biometric access control systems for secure installations, offices, institutions, vehicles, et al. The unique capability of this company involves the development of Bio Gates – a biological identification device for access control, based on the scanning of the veins in the palm of the person seeking access. Less than ten companies are involved in this particular field of activity worldwide, and BioGuard is regarded as a leader. Yonni Luzon, BioGuard’s VP R&D, explains: “Our clients want to implement very high security standards, and for that we developed the vein identification system. A person’s veins are unique. No two vein systems are alike, and the layout of the veins in one’s palms stops changing after the age of 7 or 8 years. Our product is based on a sensor and a camera. The subject places his/her palm about 5 centimeters above the scanning device without touching it. The camera takes a photograph, the optical sensor transmits light beams that penetrate the skin and identify the vein layout in the subject’s palm. A comparison against the database either grants the subject access or keeps him/her outside. The vein layout cannot be forged. The scanning process takes less than two seconds. This is a new technology and the results are very accurate. The product is currently used in courthouses, databases, mines in Latin America, country clubs and even schools in the USA.” Luzon says that a major manufacturer of bullet-proof doors in the Netherlands incorporates the biological vein scanning system in his doors as an integral part, to upgrade the security standard they offer.

Physiological parameters are generated by each one of us dozens or hundreds of time a day, unconsciously. They can be utilized to prevent theft. We hold, seize, grab and operate our mobile phones in a certain biological way. If a mobile phone is stolen with all of the information and contact lists it contains, the special application developed by OS New Horizons will help you locate the stolen device: The Bio-ID Theft Protection application issues an alert when someone other than the owner takes hold of the phone. A motion sensor is built into the phone. As soon as someone picks it up, the sensor will determine whether the holder is familiar (the user/owner) or not familiar (a thief). When the application fails to identify the biological characteristics of the person holding the phone, it will generate a visual and audible alarm – sound a special voice alert and activate a blinking light on the display screen. The application will send a photograph of the unidentified holder, lock the phone and render it useless, and can also send an SMS message to a preprogrammed list of recipients, which may include family members of the owner or the police.

The Fujitsu Company also had a measure for preventing smartphone theft in mind when it presented, at a recent exhibition, its own concept for biometric identification using a person’s iris. Their identification system consists of an infrared LED lamp and a camera. The camera captures an image of the iris of the person holding the smartphone. A person’s iris image is unique and stops changing after the age of two years. A dedicated software compares the image against a database and determines whether the holder is the smartphone owner or the person who stole it.

DNA samples are also used for identification. Members of US Army specialist units are conducting experiments with a new piece of equipment: a DNA scanner-reader that will enable prompt and accurate identification of the subject. The device is admittedly heavy – it weighs about 30 kilograms at this stage – but it provides prompt results in the form of a positive identification of a subject within 90 minutes, as opposed to the past, when DNA samples had to be sent to specialist laboratories for analyses that took weeks to complete. The new device will support the specialist units in the field, mainly for the purpose of identifying people suspected of terrorist activity.

The inhabitants of the State of Israel encounter biometric identification devices when they depart from or arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport. At this time, 17 quick biometric service stations are in operation at Ben-Gurion Airport, serving owners of biometric passports. This process saves time for departing and arriving passengers who are not required to actually meet representatives of the Ministry of the Interior or Israel Border Police. Since the beginning of this year, more than 300,000 passengers have passed through the biometric identification stations, and the number will no doubt increase during the holiday season in the summer. The State of Israel encourages us, its inhabitants, to advance to the biometric era: in 2009, the Knesset passed the “Biometric Identification Measures & Biometric Identification Data in Identifying Documents and Databases Law 2009”. At the same time, the Biometric Database Management Authority (BDMA) was established to develop and manage a biometric database that would contain the biometric data of every holder of the new documents (identity cards and passports). The idea is to prevent document theft and impersonation using fraudulently-obtained documents and passports. The database secures anyone applying for a new biometric identity card or passport, and promises to verify that the applicant is, indeed, the person he/she claims to be and not an impostor. A pilot period was set forth until the end of June 2015, during which joining the new database is strictly voluntary.

The Ministry of the Interior promises that the biometric database will only contain a facial image (ID photo) and images of two fingerprints of the record owner and that there are no other data – no names, identity numbers, address or age data or DNA samples. The new documentation record consists of a computer chip that contains the same biographic data printed in the paper certificates and, as stated, an ID photo and two fingerprints.

What does the future hold for biometric identification? Experts believe that an identification mechanism may be developed on the basis of a person’s walk. The major airlines are interested in this capability – identifying a person walking into an airport by the way he/she walks, while he/she is walking, in order to complete the identification process quickly, on the move, thereby saving time and queueing. This is only a concept at this point – no product is available yet. 


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