A fingerprint reader (or scanner) is a biometric security device used to protect unauthorized access to a device. This is done by comparing a scan of an individual’s unique fingerprint ridges with stored digital images of verified users. Access is granted if the fingerprint is a match to one of those valid images. This technology can be utilized by integrating the fingerprint scanner on the tablet PC, laptop computer or mobile phone, or an OEM biometric reader can be introduced with Bluetooth or USB connectivity.
There are four technologies used for fingerprint reading/scanning.
- Optical – Works by using a bright light and taking a digital photo that turns the fingerprint’s ridges and valleys into digital data.
- Ultrasound – Uses high frequency sound waves.
- Thermal – Senses the temperature differences between the ridges and valleys at the contact surface.
- Capacitive – This is the most common technology used for fingerprint readers and is similar to a capacitive touchscreen. Capacitive fingerprint readers create a digital image from the electrostatic field created by the touch of the finger. This technology is more secure and harder to bypass.
The main use of fingerprint readers is to identify verified users for access management. Only authorized users’ recognized fingerprints will be granted access to a system such as a tablet PC or smartphone. Other uses include criminal investigation, background checks, retail point of sale (POS), education, membership management, transportation and healthcare. Medical facilities use fingerprint access control systems to comply with HIPAA regulations to protect patient privacy.
- Security – There is no security system that is 100% safe. Even a fingerprint reader can be fooled with a lot of effort, but the majority of hacking-related breaches are from stolen or weak passwords. Fingerprint technology is one of the most secure methods of access control. Security can be further enhanced when paired with the use of a PIN, smart card or some other security measure.
- Accuracy – Fingerprint scans are nearly 100% accurate for authentication.
- Speed/convenience – A biometric fingerprint scan only takes less than a second. This is faster and much more convenient than most other authentication processes such as entering a password that may be forgotten. Fingerprints are much more difficult to lose as opposed to an access card or a key.
- Cost effective – Fingerprint recognition technology is the most cost effective device authentication system. There is no expense for cards that can add up for a card based system, especially when there are a lot of users. Even though password protection has no hardware costs, technical support costs associated with forgotten or stolen passwords can be significant.