Conventional password security could soon become a thing of the past with your
PC scanning your irises or asking for a fingerprint, following Microsoft?s
latest acquisition.

The software giant has snapped up I/O Software's Biometric application
programming interface (API) technology and SecureSuite authentication technology
as a means of adding biometric user-recognition capabilities to future versions
of Windows.

By bringing biometrics' physical characteristic authentication technology to the
PC realm, Windows users will log on to their desktop computers or conduct secure
e-commerce transactions using fingerprints, iris patterns, or voice recognition
to confirm their identities, rather than passwords, says Shannon Boettcher, lead
product manager for Microsoft Windows 2000 server.

Boettcher would not say when a commercial version of the biometrics-laden
Windows program would be available.

"Wherever you would see a password appear, biometrics would be an option for
that," Boettcher says. "Customers will determine what their needs are and what
types of biometrics works the best for them. We're building the platform to
enable [products] to plug in."

Biometrics works by matching or verifying a person's unique physical traits -
including iris, fingerprint, or voice patterns - with stored data. Because it is
difficult for biometrics information to be lost, stolen, or shared with others,
the security technology could be ready to stake a name for itself in the
competitive security landscape, says Abner Germanow, research manager of
Internet security at IDC.

"Passwords just don't work. They don't scale, they're not secure, they cause a
lot of problems for help desks," Germanow says. "[Biometrics] is actually more
of a convenience issue than a security issue, although security is a part of

For Windows users, the BAPI and SecureSuite will provide authentication
services, biometric data storage, and a common user interface for
biometric-enabled applications. I/O software currently features products for
Windows 95, 98, and Windows NT 4.0. Products for Windows 2000 are expected this

Boettcher says the Microsoft and I/O Software collaboration will also include
the incorporation of biometrics authentication into Windows-based applications
and a stronger promotion of Biometrics usage in business.

Germanow agrees that Microsoft's considerable name-brand clout will lend some
credence to a Biometrics security environment that is often still plagued by a
perception by users of being a fantastic "James Bond" technology.

"The fact that you have a very major player in the industry saying, 'Yeah, we
think there's a future for using this stuff,' that's a big validation for
[biometrics vendors]," Germanow says.