Body Language

Password glut got you down? Hackers scoff at password systems, anyway. Is biometrics the answer?

Back in the 1980s, I think I had one password-my ATM PIN number. OK, maybe I had a gate code number, too. Today, I must have 100 passwords-who knows?

It seems as if a growing number of sites demand user names and passwords-usually with special syntax that keeps me from using the same pair everywhere. Then, I'm supposed to change them all periodically for security's sake.

That's a joke. Research company Frost & Sullivan analyst Jason Wright reminds us that password systems are relatively low hurdles for hackers breaking into our LANs, Web sites or e-mail systems. The average hacker-more often than not, an employee-need only run free password-cracking software like Lophtcrack against a fairly obvious set of user names (such as Mike_Hogan, Mike Hogan, Mhogan and so on).

Consumers know this intuitively. In a recent survey by Yankelovich Partners, 38 percent of respondents said privacy and security concerns limit their online spending, and another 31 percent said those concerns cause them to refrain from online purchases altogether. In other words, real or perceived short-comings in Internet security hit entrepreneurs right in the bottom line.

But you may already have the solution to all your security needs right in the palm of your hand-or, more likely, at your fingertips. That's because biometrics offers an answer to all security and authorization issues. These technologies rely on the uniqueness of the human body to identify individuals, literally measuring your biological features and behaviors. The technology can scan your fingertips, hands, face, iris, retina, voice pattern or even behavioral characteristics. For example, there's a technology that measures the way you hunt and peck on a keyboard.

Biometrics has long been used by government and corporate IT departments. Lately, it's gotten a lot cheaper and so reliable that the chances of fooling a biometric scan are, like, one in a billion.

The technology is only now getting into the hands of consumers and businesses, although analysts believe the continued strong growth of biometrics in traditional venues will help jump-start its widespread use on the Internet.

IDC predicts that biometrics sales to IT departments alone will grow more than 60 percent annually to $1.8 billion by 2004. But it's hard to be precise about a market that's just being born.

Mike Hogan, Entrepreneur's technology editor, can be reached at

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Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at

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This article was originally published in the March 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Body Language.

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