Ta-ta, passwords

Associated Press

City workers in Oceanside, Calif., were drowning in passwords. One to check e-mail, others to see water billing records or police reports, all on top of the codes and personal identification numbers they had to keep straight in their off-the-job lives.

Time and money were wasted answering up to 30 calls a day from workers who forgot or lost passwords.

Now, those calls are down to one or two a week.

Two years ago, Oceanside began installing mouse-sized fingerprint scanners at city computers. So instead of fumbling for a password, city workers now need only place finger to scanner to get onto the network.

“It’s been a big success,” said Michael Sherwood, the city’s information technology director. “The only thing we’re wondering is, why hasn’t the rest of the world caught on?”

Biometric devices that identify people by physical characteristics – such as eye patterns, voice tones and handprints – have been the stuff of cinema for decades.

In the real world, prohibitive costs have restricted their use mainly to government offices and military bases.

Until now, that is.

As sensitive and important business is increasingly conducted online, biometrics’ day may finally have come. Within the next year, mobile phones and personal computers will have fingerprint scanners as optional equipment, providing convenience as well as increased security.

Passwords can be easily stolen. Fingerprints can’t.

That’s why government benefits such as welfare payments are increasingly being secured with biometrics, and why the Immigration and Naturalization Service relies on handprint scans to help some 45,000 frequent international travelers re-enter the country speedily at six major airports without a passport check.

At the huge Comdex high-tech trade show that opened Sunday in Las Vegas, dozens of biometrics companies will be competing for attention, pushing everything from voice-recognition software to programs that can purportedly distinguish computer users by how they type their password.

“Before it was this James Bond kind of stuff, with retina scans, that kind of thing,” said Sean Berg, security segment manager at Dell Computer Corp., which will offer fingerprint scanners on cards that plug into laptops. “Now it’s much more prevalent, much easier to use and much more affordable for the consumer.”

Sales of biometric-related hardware and software amounted to only $60 million last year, but that figure is expected to reach the hundreds of millions by 2002 or 2003, said Arabella Hallawell, a Gartner Group analyst.

Biometric devices are also expected to get a boost because they can be used to initiate digital signatures, which last month became a legally legitimate means of making online transactions in the United States.

“With e-business, as you get much more deeper, richer types of services offered, you’re going to need to know with some level of precision that the people on the other end of the computer, Web-enabled phone or kiosk – you have to make sure they are who they say they are,” Hallawell said.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

A Mukilteo firefighter waves out of a fire truck. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Fire Department)
EMS levy lift would increase tax bill $200 for average Mukilteo house

A measure rejected by voters in 2023 is back. “We’re getting further and further behind as we go through the days,” Fire Chief Glen Albright said.

An emergency overdose kit with naloxone located next to an emergency defibrillator at Mountain View student housing at Everett Community College on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
To combat fentanyl, Snohomish County trickles out cash to recovery groups

The latest dispersal, $77,800 in total, is a wafer-thin slice of the state’s $1.1 billion in opioid lawsuit settlements.

A giant Bigfoot creation made by Terry Carrigan, 60, at his home-based Skywater Studios on Sunday, April 14, 2024 in Monroe, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
The 1,500-pound Sasquatch: Bigfoot comes to life in woods near Monroe

A possibly larger-than-life sculpture, created by Terry Carrigan of Skywater Studios, will be featured at this weekend’s “Oddmall” expo.

Deputy prosecutors Bob Langbehn and Melissa Samp speak during the new trial of Jamel Alexander on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Second trial begins for man accused of stomping Everett woman to death

In 2021, a jury found Jamel Alexander guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Shawna Brune. An appellate court overturned his conviction.

New Jersey company acquires Lynnwood Land Rover dealership

Land Rover Seattle, now Land Rover Lynnwood, has been purchased by Holman, a 100-year-old company.

Dave Calhoun, center, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on Jan. 24. (Samuel Corum / Bloomberg)
Boeing fired lobbying firm that helped it navigate 737 Max crashes

Amid congressional hearings on Boeing’s “broken safety culture,” the company has severed ties with one of D.C.’s most powerful firms.

Authorities found King County woman Jane Tang who was missing since March 2 near Heather Lake. (Family photo)
Body of missing woman recovered near Heather Lake

Jane Tang, 61, told family she was going to a state park last month. Search teams found her body weeks later.

Deborah Wade (photo provided by Everett Public Schools)
‘We are heartbroken’: Everett teacher died after driving off Tulalip road

Deborah Wade “saw the world and found beauty in people,” according to her obituary. She was 56.

Snohomish City Hall on Friday, April 12, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish may sell off old City Hall, water treatment plant, more

That’s because, as soon as 2027, Snohomish City Hall and the police and public works departments could move to a brand-new campus.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.