Few modern offices would look complete without the sight of monitors festooned with yellow Post-it Notes of end-user passwords.
The habit may make even the most world-weary support professional wince, but it is hard to blame people from choosing that level of convenience over the burden of remembering multiple user names, passwords and PINs. When they are reminded that the service provider charges the company £50 for each reset of a forgotten password, their flouting of security guidelines may even seem like an act of corporate parsimony. No wonder most managers choose to turn a blind eye to such behaviour.
However, as IT reaches deeper into the fibre of the organisation, everyone knows that the humble password has got to be replaced by something more manageable and secure – some means of authenticating individuals that can’t be lost and is unique, application independent and non-transferable.
There is only one approach that fits that bill, and that is to link access to an individual’s physical uniqueness.
Over the past year, biometric security – for long regarded as more science fiction than corporate option – has made it onto the agenda of many businesses executives and government agencies. This month’s cover story, ‘Identity Crisis’, takes a hard look at how realistic that option has become. And it finds that biometric technologies are making inroads into organisations as diverse as hospitals, ad agencies, computer vendors and banks.
As the article underscores, not all the technology – and indeed the cultural and political – problems have been addressed. And organisations need to consider which type of biometrics – whether it is based on iris, fingerprint, signature, voice or some other method of recognition – is sufficiently reliable and a good fit for their business. But for an ever-increasing number of users biometrics will be the relief from the hassles of password management – and the security fillip – that they have been looking for. Maybe someone should tell 3M it’s time to scale back on orders of yellow paper and glue…