Back in the day (yeah, 2000) when I was working with biometric verification systems, I knew the direction that biometric readers would have on the future. Since then, I've always wondered if every PC one day would come with an option to have a biometric reader installed as an additional device to assist in securing your PC and remembering everyone's user name and password using fingerprints.
The good news is that, yes, you can purchase a biometric reader and it will definitely help you with remembering user names and passwords on certain web sites.
After purchasing the Microsoft Fingerprint Reader, I immediately wanted to try out FingerAuth, the latest Firefox extension to support biometric fingerprint readers.
The idea of a fingerprint reader is to allow a user into a specific area using only their fingerprint to identify and authenticate them. As soon as they are authenticated, you are allowed into the secure area.
As most of you know, Microsoft's Fingerprint Reader provides special capabilities to Internet Explorer users, but not to Firefox users. This is where FingerAuth fills in the gap.
FingerAuth provides a way to use various USB biometric fingerprint readers with Firefox 1.5 and 2.0. The extension also works seamlessly on all flavors of Windows including 98, Me, 2000, 2003, XP and Vista. Unfortunately, there isn't a version for Linux.
The installation was a little bit difficult. Of course, you download and install the extension and then restart Firefox. One of the drawbacks of FingerAuth was the installation of the extension itself. After restarting Firefox, I immediately received an HTML help file stating that the FingerAuth was not functioning properly, a tooltip hovering over the biometric icon in the status bar notifying me that the fingerprint reader wasn't working, and the help file was immediately positioned on a number of possible solutions on how to fix the problem.
The help file did have a thorough solution (solution 1) and definitely fixed my problem, but inexperienced users may have difficulty in installing the extension, may become frustrated, and, inevitably, give up.
After uninstalling, running Firefox as an Admin, installing the extension, and restarting Firefox, everything started working as expected. The FingerAuth extension presented itself as a biometric icon on the status bar.
One other thing to mention is that they do have a technical support section along with a contact page so if a user does experience any problems, help is only an email away. This is the first extension that I've seen that has a technical support section specifically for a Firefox extension, which definitely impressed me.
When Firefox restarts, you'll notice a Fingerprint Registration Wizard that appears and asks you to register your finger (or fingers) with the biometric reader. After you complete your registration, you are ready to begin using FingerAuth.
Surf to a web site where you are a member (i.e. where you enter a username and password normally). Right-click on the biometric finger in the status bar and click "Create Fingerprint Login."
Give it a name and then enter your user name and password. Notice how the user name in the dialog is hilighted the same as the one in the browser window and the same happens with the password edit box and the login/submit button. Click the OK button to save your changes for this web site. Registering a web site is very intuitive and uses a nice, clean interface.
The next time you visit that web site, you'll notice that the biometric icon in the status bar is red, meaning you can use your finger to login automatically. One thing you may want to do is backup your user names and passwords as you continue to use your fingerprint reader. One day, you may lose them all, so BACK THEM UP!
I know this is an innate ability of Firefox extensions, but this is definitely an excellent way for a company to update their product to their clients: Immediate updates propagated to the masses when an update is issued.
The only configuration necessary for FingerAuth is the installation, Fingerprint Registration Wizard, and the setup of each web site you want protected.
If one finger doesn't suit you, you can use the Fingerprint Registration Wizard again to select a different finger.
Also, I noticed an Options item in the context menu. After clicking on it, no options were offered and it referred me to the DigitalPersona's Fingerprint Options page. The Digital Persona was the software installed with your Microsoft Fingerprint Reader in the system tray. Use that for configuring your options and FingerAuth will automatically pick up those settings for your reader.
For those who currently own a fingerprint reader or if you have one built into your laptop for security reasons, and you use Firefox instead of IE, I would definitely encourage users to purchase (yes, purchase) the extension.
The extension is priced at $19.95 US and even though it's difficult to install at first, once it's up and running, FingerAuth allows users to easily take their security to the next level.
The extension deserves a rating of 4 out of 5 and I would definitely recommend this extension to intermediate and expert users.