NIST develops biometric communication protocol

Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed and published a protocol for communicating with biometric sensors over wired and wireless networks.

The new protocol is said to use some of the same technologies that underpin the web.

The protocol, called WS-Biometric Devices (WS-BD), reportedly allows desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones to access sensors that capture biometric data such as fingerprints, iris images and face images using web services.

According to a statement from NIST, the WS-BD protocol will make it easier to set up and maintain secure biometric systems for verifying identity because such biometric systems will be more straightforward to assemble with interoperable components compared with current biometrics systems that generally have proprietary device-specific drivers and cables.

WS-BD enables interoperability by adding a device-independent web-services layer in the communication protocol between biometric devices and systems.

‘This would be useful to many organisations that house biometric systems, including border control and customs agencies,’ said computer scientist Kevin Mangold.

Using current biometric systems, when one biometric sensor breaks it can be expensive and time consuming to find a replacement because manufacturers often change product lines and phase out previous-generation devices. A few broken devices could entail having to rebuild the entire system, upgrade devices and drivers that may be incompatible with host operating systems and retrain personnel, he added.

A 2010 National Academies study, titled ‘Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities’, recognised that ‘biometric systems should be designed to anticipate the development and adoption of new advances and standards, modularising components that are likely to become obsolete, such as biometric sensors and matcher systems, so that they can be easily replaced’.

NIST researchers recognised this need several years ago and developed a solution with the support of the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Biometric Center of Excellence and NIST’s Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. NIST is also working with industry through the Small Business Innovation Research Program to help bring these plug-and-play biometric devices to market.

Two NIST researchers recently demonstrated the WS-BD system in their lab using a tablet and two biometric sensors. A tap on the tablet signals the web-enabled fingerprint sensor to capture four fingerprints from the individual whose hand is on the scanner and send it back to the tablet. A tap on another button controls a camera to take a photo for facial recognition.