Biometric security available for PCs
By Greg Wright
Gannett News Service
Computers that recognize the faces and voices of their users used to be the stuff of "Star Trek" and sci-fi movies.
Face Lock's identification screen uses a computer's Webcam, microphone and sound card to verify the identity of users. It can be set to block children's access to the Internet and for other uses.
Face Lock ($29.99; databecker.com) uses a Webcam, a microphone and a PC's sound card to measure computer users' face and speech patterns using biometric technology from Keyware (keyware.com).
This type of James Bond-style security might sound like overkill for consumers, but it does have a variety of practical applications at home and in small businesses.
Families can use it to restrict how much access youngsters have to the Internet, while small businesses can use it to block employees from looking at confidential data. College students, who frequently share computers with roommates and friends, also might find Face Look's ability to remember multiple passwords which can be forgotten or stolen useful.
Can it be fooled?
Face Lock is available from Data Becker Corp. for $29.95.
For evaluation, Face Lock was installed on 450-megahertz Pentium III system from Dell Computer. The PC came equipped with 64 megabytes of memory and a Logitech QuickCam VC Webcam ($79.95; logitech.com). The PC was running Windows 98.
Face Lock runs under Windows 95, 98, 98SE and Me. It needs at least a 233-megahertz Pentium II, 64 megabytes of memory, a Webcam, a 16-bit sound card and a color monitor.
Installing Face Lock software took just five minutes. Once it's loaded, Face Lock prompts one user to register as the software's administrator. It then records a sample of the administrator's voice and takes up to nine pictures of his or her face using the Webcam. After the administrator is recognized, Face Lock allows more users to register their voices and faces with the system.
Once users are registered, a dialog box lets the administrator set up which programs and data files require Face Lock identification. It's even possible to require identification to start and operate the PC.
To test Face Lock, several Gannett News Service staffers recorded their faces and configured Face Lock to block them from accessing Microsoft Word if they weren't recognized. Face Lock usually acknowledged them within a couple of seconds, but sometimes it took several attempts to make the software recognize some faces.
The software appears to be sensitive to changes in lighting. When someone attempted identification under lighting that was different from the lighting when they initially registered, their identity often wasn't confirmed. That's why Data Becker recommends that users should set room lighting, seating and camera position as close as possible to the original face I.D. setting when they try to log in.
Gannett News Service tried a couple of tests to fool the software. Photographer Heather Wines attempted to confuse Face Lock by using an actual-size mask of her face. The software didn't buy it because it looks for variation in light and shadow created by the depth of facial features. Because Wines' mask was flat, it wasn't recognized.
What's more, two staffers who resemble one another checked to see if their similarities might throw Face Lock for a loop. The software, however, didn't buy their attempts to impersonate each other.
Considering it's low price, Face Look is certainly worth a try especially if you own a Web cam. And if nothing else, it makes a great party trick that's sure to impress your guests.