Security firm: PIN-replacing fingerprint scanner is Internet equivalent of "cure for cancer"

Dutch authentication technology firm Primary-Net has unveiled its plans for a fingerprint-based payment system to replace PIN numbers and credit cards in payment transactions.

The Primary Pass, its new authentication device, was unveiled at an event at the Science Museum in London, coupled with gushing hyperbole. "We are revealing something like the magnitude of a total cure for cancer...for the internet," the company claimed. "We believe this is the most revolutionary security measure...since the creation of the internet."

Claims don't come much bolder, but it's true that so-called "biocryptology" has been gaining traction recently, with Apple's iPhone 5S allowing payments to be made online using its inbuilt fingerprint scanner. However, Primary-Net believes this approach could be used to replace the current payment system as a whole. It has already signed up one US bank for the trial, and has approached several others.

The Primary Pass, the device on which the company's whole system rests, is a small fingerprint scanner about the size and shape of a portable mouse. It can be carried around by the user, and used to authenticate payments much like a credit or debit card is used today.

But Primary-Net isn't the only horse in the biocryptology race. Nexus Smart Pay is another company hoping to use biometric fingerprint scans to identify prepaid customers on their programme, using its new Hanscan technology. However, Primary-Net's Programme differs from Nexus in that each Primary Pass device is unique to its owner, and calibrated to their prints.

The device takes initial scans of its users' fingers, then encrypts the images, and stores them inside its chip. The Primary Pass maintains its security by having no other software or operating system installed, making it virtually impossible for malware to be introduced. When a payment is made, the encrypted scans are sent to one of Primary-Net's three datacentres: two in Europe and one in South America, to be authenticated.

Primary-Net claims this system makes it far more secure than its rival, as there's no way for the authentication data generated from the users' fingerprint to be intercepted or decrypted.

The company has even tried to assuage other fears surrounding shifting to a biometric form of identity authentication: its Primary Pass detects vital signs in the finger, so a copy or even a severed digit couldn't be used to authenticate a payment. The user's fingerprint details, as well as information such as their name, date of birth, nationality and sex, are all encrypted using Primary-Net's proprietary encryption program.

If it can overcome security concerns, programmes like Primary Pass could be the future of mobile payments, which is already gaining traction in many areas.

The company has even suggested that biocryptology technology could replace passports and ID cards, and could have a wide range of benefits, from reducing queues at airports, to replacing driving licenses, and quashing benefit fraud. It could also be adapted to include iris scans in the future.

"We believe Biocryptology will change the world," Zwart said.