A high-tech solution to tackle your growing jumble of identity numbers and passwords, as well as to help whisk you through various security checks is becoming more widespread. And it's as plain as the nose on your face – or your fingerprint.

The concept is based on biometrics - 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.

Plummeting prices

A host of firms, including Minnesota-based Identix 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 had 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 $4.0 billion segment by 2007, up from $900 million in 2002, according to recent industry studies.
 
Touch me

ISL Biometrics has installed fingerprint-recognition technology at more than 60 British hospitals, McDermott said.

Hi-tech scanners promise to
speed travellers through airports

About 11,000 National Health Service employees must press their finger to a tiny pad on a computer before gaining access to patient information or physical access to the prescription drugs ward, he added.

McDermott has said privately held company ISL Biometrics have 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.

Company networks

According to a recent study by Aberdeen Group, large firms spend up to $350 per employee annually on computer password management as frustrated workers ring their IT “help” staff asking them to reset one of many password codes so they can access the office computer network.

But cheap new devices such as mouse pads and laptop cards - equipped with a tiny fingerprint-matching scanner - are being designed to connect computer users to the network.

And, in the near future, most mobile phones and handheld gadgets will be fitted with the same feature, experts say.
 
"All you'll need is your fingerprint imprint and you'll be on the system in no time," said McDermott.