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A less-well known, but more powerful, technique for biometric authentication is recognition of the pattern of veins in the finger. This pattern is unique even between identical twins, is unchanging in adulthood. And blood must be flowing through those veins for it to work, so it is extremely difficult to copy.
Vein scanning can also provide a level of protection against coercion: patterns are unique to each finger enabling one finger to be used for authentication and another to signal duress. Inserting this finger into the scanner could, for example, silently raise an alarm and summon help.
Hitachi has been developing vein recognition technology since 1997 and had its first products on the market, in Japan, in 2002. Today vein recognition is available commercially in Hitachi’s VeinID system.
This comprises a small finger scanner and back-end software. Near-infrared light from a source in the scanner is absorbed by haemoglobin in the blood to reveal an image of the veins, which is captured by the scanner’s inbuilt camera. The back end software matches the scanned vein image with a pre-stored, encrypted master copy.
Hitachi's Vein Scanning
Hitachi has detailed its technology, and some real world use cases in the Hitachi Review, in Trends in Finger Vein Authentication and Deployment in Europe and Global Deployment of Finger Vein Authentication.2
For enterprises needing to authenticate staff members for time-tracking VeinID’s robust security combined with great ease of use and ease of deployment make it particularly attractive. All that is required at any location is a PC connected to the Internet or the corporate network. Employees simply insert their finger into the scanner, and their identity is verified within about two seconds.
Such a facility can be transformational for a business. Take the experience of Tasmanian disability services provider STAR Tasmania — now Mosaic Mobility Services — which provides accommodation, in-home support, case management and respite services for people with disabilities.
Staff members work across multiple locations, often spending a few days at one of Star’s assisted-living homes and then visiting clients in their own homes.
Prior to deploying VeinID STAR used a paper-based system to track staff rosters and pay staff appropriately. Staff members would fill in timesheets at the end of each fortnight and fax them to head office where the manager would check them against a spreadsheet of rostering details, and then forward the approved timesheets and rosters to the payroll department.
The system, says CEO Ralph Doedens, was a disaster waiting to happen. “There were instances where the manager scanned the timesheets and papers got caught together so they never arrived. That would tie the manager up for days checking a number of timesheets.”
STAR now uses a Hitachi VeinID scanner at each location. The backend software identifies employees and feeds information into the rostering and payroll systems.
Doedens estimates the system is saving STAR approximately $100,000 more per year, and says it has freed up staff to spend more time caring for clients. “Clients get more quality time because staff are not bogged down with paperwork.” And, he says, “It has improved staff morale because they don’t have to deal with all that paperwork.”
However the introduction of VeinID has brought other, unexpected, benefits. The system has proved to be something of a Trojan Horse, enabling STAR to introduce information technology to a previously tech-averse workforce.
“The vein scanner has been the start of a revolution in the way people think about how they use technology,” Doedens says. “It has broken the ice in terms of access to modern technology and the tools that are available. We always had somebody who said they did not like computers. I don’t get that any longer. Staff are now not negative about things we might think of introducing in the future.”
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