Primary-Net's fingerprint scanner aims to kill PINs

24 Oct 2013

Primary-Net introduces biocryptology, an advanced fingerprint scanner for payments and file transfers

A Dutch R&D company has unveiled an online identification system using fingerprint scanning that it claims is the internet equivalent of a "cure for cancer".

Primary-Net has unveiled its "biocryptology" tech, claiming it's safer than rival biometric solutions and could do away with PINs and passwords entirely.

Demonstrating the tech at the Science Museum in London, Primary-Net said unlike other scanners, Biocryptology detects when an actual finger is being used. The scanner uses infrared to detect, for example, oxygen levels in the blood to prevent against fake imprints.

And where other scanners are vulnerable to hackers stealing the actual biometric data, Primary-Net's scanner encrypts fingerprint information on the hardware.

Confirmation of authentication and decryption then takes place in one of Primary-Net's three data centres. That, according to the company, means it's impossible for a hacker to intercept and steal that data, or even for Primary-Net to access the information itself.

Can it work?

The company has so far installed the technology on two devices: its cashless payment system Nexus SmartPay, and its personal finger scanner Primary Pass.

The company has been testing the NexusPay systems in the US, allowing consumers to register their fingerprint with their bank or card provider, and then buy items from local retailers with a swipe of their finger.

Primary-Net's business development chief, Chris Edwards, told PC Pro that the company has just signed up its first US bank for the trial, and has courted interest from others.

Edwards said there were no plans to extend the trial to Europe as yet.

primary net

Where Nexus SmartPay is targeted at retailers and banks, Primary-Net is also offering the individual Primary Pass scanners to consumers and businesses. It claims the scanners could be used by individuals to transfer files more securely or make online transactions.

The Primary Pass is a small, mouse-shaped device that sits comfortably in the palm of your hand and plugs into a PC's USB port.

Unlike the payment terminals, the Primary Pass devices are unique to a single user - meaning you'd have to register your biometric information with Primary-Net, then carry your scanner with you whenever you wanted to use it. And while biometric data is encrypted on the hardware, actual files are encrypted using standard SSL.

Primary-Net hasn't revealed pricing details but charges a "minimal" upfront cost for its hardware, then a subscription of $3.99 a month thereafter.

primary net

While the Primary Pass might be a safer alternative to passwords than other biometric technologies, it isn't clear how they would be used in practice.

For example, using the Primary Pass with a third-party service such as Dropbox to transfer files would require a partnership between the two firms. That seems like a major hurdle, given the number of partnerships potentially required to make the devices useful to office workers.

Edwards wouldn't confirm if Primary-Net had held any talks with potential software partners, or even if it had persuaded any British companies to buy Primary Pass devices.

Still, after spending €30 million and eight years on development, company chairman Klaas Zwaart has grand visions for the technology. "[This is] something of the magnitude of a cure for cancer, but for the internet," he said. "We believe this is the most revolutionary security mechanism since the creation of internet."

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