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It’s time to wave goodbye to fingerprint scanners, and welcome the age of personal biometric cards

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flickr / AMISOM)

Amid the current coronavirus pandemic, it is becoming increasingly clear that fingerprint scanners, which require users to touch potentially contaminated surfaces, are no longer an adequate means of access control in the workplace. Whilst many businesses are following government guidance to close and encourage their staff to work from home, there are still essential organisations that need to stay open and active to serve our public.

From airports to hospitals to supermarkets, fingerprint scanning is often used to identify and check in passengers, employees and customers. Construction workers too are still commuting to busy building sites despite the government cracking down on social distancing. At construction sites, although an increasing number of hand sanitiser stations have been placed on site, workers are still using fingerprint scanners to gain access to the site when they go in or out. These fingerprint scanners require people to touch the same surface, which could potentially be contaminated with bacteria or spread infection.

In this changing world, it is becoming apparent that fingerprint scanners are not the most hygienic of authentication methods. But at the same time, businesses in the UK are spending more than two months resetting staff passwords.  A further chunk of time is being spent replacing traditional employee pass cards that have been lost, stolen or misplaced.

And of course, data and information protection is still important for all businesses today, thanks to  heavy fines given for GDPR breaches. On top of that, the rise of the ‘bring-your-own-device’ trend —which more than 46 per cent of business have already adopted — has increased security risks and made corporate passwords not fit for purpose.

Therefore, it is evident that a more secure – and hygienic – solution to workplace access is needed. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 40 per cent of businesses plan to adopt biometric technology for information security. But it’s important that it must be a technology that provides security, hygiene and convenience for both businesses and end users.

So, what’s the alternative?

In smart workplaces businesses can implement individual, role-based biometric access control cards which mean that buildings that can automatically register that employees have logged in. From that they can set facilities in meeting rooms such as the employee’s desired lighting style or temperature through a process called commercial building automation. Smart workplace solutions are designed to improve productivity and make it easier for employees to work efficiently and comfortably – enabling businesses to focus on their customers. For many businesses, a smart workplace offers a number of advantages and is more than just a ‘fancy gadget’.

Implementing role-based access

Instead of resorting to a reader-based sensor, fingerprint biometric authentication is best introduced on individual employee ID cards. This means each user can confirm their identity, role and level of access, by scanning their fingerprint on their own personal card – removing the need for shared devices.

It’s also crucial to help businesses embrace the ‘zero trust model’ in the workplace and ensure that sensitive corporate information and office spaces remain protected. With health concerns now front of mind, it’s now important that businesses do this without having to rely on communal fingerprint sensors or hand scanning devices.

Of course, it’s also crucial to ensure personal data security. During card registration, or the work onboarding process, the employee’s fingerprint image can be scanned by the biometric card sensor and then converted into a biometric template. The template is then encrypted and stored in the secure element in the card’s chip. This means the personal data never leaves the ID card - and isn’t stored on a central database. So, if the smart card is stolen, the templates cannot be hacked or reveal the user’s biometric fingerprint.

The biometric pass card will also remove the ability for employees to share passwords and ID cards, while boosting authentication accuracy and reducing friction.

The future of the smart workplace

A biometric access card doesn’t just increase security and prevent users having to scan their fingerprint on grubby reader devices. When combined with a smart workplace, it can also increase the level of personalisation an employee can experience throughout the office and reduce the need for mundane processes.

A smart workplace utilises IoT technology — such as sensors, connected devices and networked platforms — to streamline, and even enhance the office experience. With a biometric fingerprint ID card, a smart office can recognise the employee as they move around, meaning they can work more efficiently, minimising workplace disruptions and improving their working day.

For instance, do you like your meeting room warmer, brighter, or quieter than everyone else? Swiping into the room with your personal, fingerprint-authorised access card can automate your preferences, saving you time and thinking space. You can focus on the task at hand, and your businesses can focus on customers.

Smart, safe and secure workplaces

Until recently, most of us relied heavily on fobs, swipe cards, keys, passwords and PINs to authenticate ourselves, gain access, or clock into our places of work. These methods of authentication are either difficult to remember or can be easily lost and stolen. Touch-free biometric access control cards will create a smart office which helps enterprises save countless hours resetting employee passwords and reduce the risk of lost or stolen access cards — all while maintaining personal hygiene when we most need it.

As we move towards the ‘new normal’, touch-free fingerprint authentication is being increasingly seen as a necessary measure to protect both companies and individuals from the spread of viruses and potential cybersecurity threats. Touch-free fingerprint biometric ID cards will not only let the right person gain access to a building, or to a network, but it will also ensure there is minimised spread of germs and viruses via shared contact points on fingerprint or hand sensors in the future.

In this unprecedented time, we are all looking to our workplaces to guide us and keep us safe at work. By implementing biometrics with individual work security passes, workplaces of the future will see improved levels of hygiene, convenience and security.

David Orme, Senior Vice President, IDEX Biometrics ASA (opens in new tab)

David Orme is Senior Vice President of IDEX Biometrics.