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Pin number problem' Solution on your fingertips

London, Oct. 15 (Reuters): Attention confounded consumers: there’s a high-tech solution that could render obsolete your growing jumble of credit card pin numbers and computer passwords — and it’s as plain as the nose on your face or fingerprint.

The concept is based on biometrics — a branch of technology that identifies individuals based on biological traits — and has begun to take off in a security-conscious world where credit card fraud and identity theft runs rife.

Imagine a quick scan of your iris, fingerprint or entire face to authorise a credit card transaction, speed your way through customs at the airport or log you onto your computer. A host of firms including Minnesota-based Identix Inc. and Paris-based Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals built businesses on military and government contracts. But with costs of raw material, computer chips and scanners plummeting, the technology is moving to the high street.

“What will make biometrics practical is the price of the chip,” said Derek McDermott, managing director of UK-based ISL Biometrics. He said chip unit costs in the past year have fallen from £40 ($66.79) to £4.

The drop in price is expected to attract the interest of cost-conscious consumers and businesses, building the biometrics market into a $4 billion segment by 2007, up from $900 million in 2002. ISL Biometrics has installed fingerprint-recognition technology at over 60 British hospitals, McDermott said. Some 11,000 National Health Service employees must press their finger to a tiny finger pad on a computer before gaining access to patient information or physical access to the prescription drugs ward, he added. McDermott said privately held company ISL Biometrics has begun working with large banks and retailers interested in an extra layer of security for the growing number of transactions that take place on the Internet and other data networks.

Currently, most credit card purchases require just a simple password to authorise a transaction, making it increasingly easy for tech-savvy fraudsters to hijack consumers’ details and embark on a spending spree that costs banks and retailers billions of dollars annually. Another area biometrics firms are keen to exploit is the corporate sector.

According to a recent study by Aberdeen Group, large organisations spend as much as $350 per employee annually on computer password management as employees invariably ring the IT “help” crew asking them to reset one of the myriad password codes needed to access the corporate computer network.

Cheap new devices such as mouse pads and laptop cards that come equipped with a fingerprint-matching scanner are being designed to whisk desk drones onto the network.

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