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GCN : April 2014
The use of iris recognition to ensure secu- rity is a familiar concept, and it is already used by some federal agencies. Pres- sured by Congress, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been developing the necessary standards to enable it to be deployed throughout government. But there's a snag. Unlike with ngerprints, which have been used in identity and forensic investigations for decades and are well understood, iris recognition isn't. Even though the uniqueness of the iris was noted at the same time as that of the ngerprint back in the late 1800s, the technology to exploit the iris has only been developed recently. People are still grappling with some of the funda- mental de nitions. One of the question is how long the various iris templates used in biomet- rics databases are valid, because (so some people insist) the iris changes as people age. That's not a minor problem. If it's true, then a signi cant number of those inaccurate templates could exist at any one time, potentially throwing out false red ags that could cause security chaos. That particular debate seems to be coming to a head. University and NIST researchers have recently been play- ing pingpong in an academic argument over this aging effect. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame, for example, produced a study questioning the value of current iris templates. NIST, which runs the Iris Exchange (IREX) as a support for iris-based applications, countered with its own study that downplayed those results. The Notre Dame researchers then came back with their own counter, basically saying NIST had screwed up the method- ology it used. This isn't the only potential problem with iris recognition. Security researchers have also identi ed ways that hackers could copy the digital code for iris scans and reproduce them at will, eliminating that biometric from the identity pro le of any affected individual. It's not clear if any of this will affect the rollout of iris scanning systems and the claim for iris recognition as one of the ba- sic biometric supports of future security systems, along with ngerprint, voice and face recognition. Based on the previ- ous assumption of iris recognition as a rock-solid science, agencies have already planned for its extensive use. The Defense Department has been using iris scans for over a decade in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places to detect terrorists, and it plans to use it for physi- cal access to facilities in combination with Common Access Cards. The FBI wants to use iris recognition in its Next Genera- tion Identi cation System, the eventual replacement for its famed Integrated Au- tomated Fingerprint Identi cation System. And Congress has been pushing NIST to come up with the necessary standards for other government uses of iris recognition, chiding of cials in committee hearings not living up to earlier promises. Other governments around the world aren't waiting. India has already enrolled hun- dreds of millions in a national identity system that includes iris recog- nition. Mexico began using iris scans on ID cards several years ago, and Argentina is also using the tech- nology in its national identity system. There are other incentives brewing, not least the use of iris recognition in mobile systems. Apple is reportedly looking at adding iris scans in future systems to the ngerprint identi cation it already uses, while Samsung on the Android side of things is rumored to be interested. Since more and more government IT seems to be driven by consumer innovations, that could also accelerate the use of iris recognition in government apps. However, if there are problems with iris recognition, what would that mean for security? No security technology is foolproof but, based on that "rock-solid" assumption, iris recognition is perceived tobeasclosetoitasyoucancome.If there really are major aws that can be exploited, then agencies will be building security systems with unexpected holes in them. • Does iris recognition have a blurred future in government? BY BRIAN ROBINSON 10 GCN APRIL 2014 • GCN.COM [BrieFing] The Defense Department has been using iris scans for over a decade in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places to detect terrorists, and it plans to use it for physical access to facilities in combination with Common Access Cards.