Fujitsu adds iris scanning to smartphone biometrics

Smartphone users could be offered a new way to protect their devices. Fujitsu is set to introduce iris-scanning technology for phones as an alternative security measure.

Fujitsu adds iris scanning to smartphone biometrics
Fujitsu adds iris scanning to smartphone biometrics

The new technology will be demonstrated in London next month as part of Fujitsu's world tour, its showcase for innovation, although it has already been used by Japanese mobile company NTT Docomo in a phone that will be publically available.

The device uses an infrared LED and a special camera to snap a picture of the iris of a person's eye.

According to James Maynard, product marketing director, Fujitsu, the iris scanner is one strand of Fujitsu's security offering. “We already have fingerprint sensors and palm readers; the iris recognition is the third form.”  He said that it was hard to say which of the technologies was the most secure as it depended on application and the situation. “Fingerprint and iris scanners work better on phones but they're used in different areas.”

He added that iris scanners worked particularly well in darkened areas because they use an infra-red camera and, because they worked with gloves on, the technology could be used in outside areas.

One of the restrictions on biometric technology has been the speed in which it processes the data. Maynard said: “When we demonstrate it, people are amazed at the speed in which it works. We worked with our partner, Delta ID, on the matching algorithm to ensure that the images can be processed quickly.”

Mark James, security specialist with ESET, said there were some considerable advantages to iris scanning. “It is one of the harder forms of biometrics to duplicate and, unlike fingerprints; they are a lot harder to damage. It could well become a good option for phone security as the distance is about right for good Iris recognition. One of the downsides of taking a picture to recognise your security is the ability to fool it by a hi-res picture and unlike touch there is no means to check for a “live” eye as such.”

Maynard said another advantage was the way in which the iris didn't change throughout a lifetime. “Once you're gone past the age of two, the iris doesn't alter. The technology works with glasses and contact lenses – although not coloured ones.” He said Fujitsu had worked to ensure that the technology was not a drain on batteries and that was affordable, “we don't see it adding significantly to the cost of a handset,” said Maynard.

James welcomed the technology but warned there were limitations to biometrics. “There is no magic solution for security, and the one good thing going for passwords is the fact that if it does get compromised then you can at least change your password, unlike your fingerprint or iris. I don't think biometrics will ever be the de-facto means to secure or protect your device but used in conjunction with passwords should continue towards the goal of making security and simplicity fairly close to each other.”