Once a tool primarily used by law enforcement to help identify criminals, biometric technologies increasingly are being used by government and the private sector to authenticate a person's identity, provide security at the nation's borders and restrict access to secure sites—both buildings and computer networks. New software and other tools that can be used to help build improved biometric applications are now available from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Most biometric systems are "unimodal," meaning they rely on a single distinguishing physical characteristic—such as a fingerprint—for authenticating identity. But using a single feature can present problems. Poor illumination could make a face image unrecognizable; dirty or damaged sensor plates could affect fingerprint equipment. A multimodal system that has several sources of information, including fingerprint, face and iris data, can be more flexible and reliable. But most biometric equipment, including the sensors that capture data and the database that stores the information, are not interoperable. Organizations must either purchase a complete system or develop "middleware"—custom integration software—to link together applications.
NIST's new Multimodal Biometric Application Resource Kit (MBARK) provides a solution. Originally envisioned as a tool to develop a large database of face, fingerprint and iris images for performance testing of biometric systems, MBARK has evolved into a standardized, flexible middleware package that will enable organizations to plug in sensors from different manufacturers, saving dollars and time. The package, which includes example applications and public-domain source code, can help reduce the complexity and costs of building multimodal biometric applications. MBARK also can used by government and industry to develop standards and tests for biometric system interoperability and usability.
MBARK was developed as part of NIST's homeland security responsibilities and was funded by the Science and Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The USA Patriot Act and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act calls for NIST to develop and certify standards for verifying the identity of individuals and determining the accuracy of biometric technologies, including fingerprints, facial recognition and iris recognition.