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Security becomes big tech business following September 11
MATT BEER Copyright 2001 Agence France Presse

Global firms rushing to bring their high-tech security gadgetry to the market amid 
surging demand in the wake of the attacks of September 11 got a chance to show their 
wares this week at the Comdex trade show here.

Corporations ranging from Germany-based Siemens to a small Swedish concern called 
Precise Biometrics are scrambling to fill their cups with the expected flood of 
investments hoped to be flowing into security.

Widespread concerns about security in the wake of the assaults on New York and the 
Pentagon have prompted the deluge, agreed Carter Marantette, director of federal sales 
for Precise Biometrics, based in Lund, Sweden.

"The industry was seeing a slow growth curve," Marantette said, demonstrating with a 
gradual sweep of his hand. "Now, it's like this." Marantette said, with his arm 
shooting above his head.

Michael Weber, Siemen's US regional sales director, quoted analyst figures predicting 
the biometrics industry would grow to 1.6 billion dollars in the next two years, a 
huge increase over the 400 million dollars predicted before September 11.

"It's now an industry force," said Weber. "Totally amazing. Tragic, indeed. But 

The biometrics industry is based on providing products that use body characteristics 
as identifiers.

One of the more advanced technologies involves face recognition, where a computer 
reads the geometry of a face to match it against a database of criminals.

But the biometric booths at Comdex mostly feature the pedestrian form of the 
technology -- fingerprints.

"It's the simplest, easiest identifier to deal with," said Marantette. Indeed, at this 
year's show, fingerprint security devices are featured prominently throughout the 
convention, incorporated into door locks, keyboards and computer mice.

The technology is simple but effective, its proponents say. A digital map of a user's 
fingerprint is stored in either the computer or in a pass card. When users seek access 
through a doorway or into a computer, they press a finger onto a small window.

This fingerprinting technology is expected to get its biggest boost from the coming 
wave of smart cards, a common sight in Europe, but still a rarity in the US.

Smart cards contain a computer chip that stores biometric data such as a digital copy 
of its owner's fingerprint. When the card is put into a door reader, the user is 
directed to press a finger into a small window. If the digital map and the finger 
match, the door opens.

"It's very simple, but very effective," said Weber.

The technology, its boosters say, is virtually hacker proof, because the digital maps 
cannot be "reversed" to recreate the owner's fingerprint. At least, not yet.

"Nothing stays totally safe," said Weber. "But for now, it's a pretty good system."

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