Security has always been a concern of paramount importance to human beings. We have gone from protecting valuables in the past by keeping them in dungeons to safeguarding data by layers and layers of cryptographic software. Either way, ensuring the well-being of our personal belongings has always been near the top of our priority list.

Thanks to technology, today security involves a wide range of software and hardware including web based security services, bio-metrics and personal devices with integrated security levels. One of the biggest advances of the digital-technical age has been the introduction of bio-metrics into security.

Here, we shall take a look at fingerprint door locks, one of the earliest and most used systems deploying bio-metrics, and take an in-depth look at its workings.

What are fingerprint door locks?

Let’s start with the definition. Although the name in itself is pretty self-explanatory, a fingerprint door lock may be defined as “a system which grants access to authorized personnel by virtue of recognizing their unique fingerprints.” You have probably looked at your hands countless times and noticed the ridges and valley pattern. The patterns were an important outcome of the human evolution as they enhanced our ability to grip. However, an unforeseen consequence of this particular step in the evolutionary process was to grant humans a fantastic method of identification.

Human fingerprints are extremely detailed and nearly unique. What is more, they are also very difficult to fake or alter and can endure over an individual’s lifespan. This makes them very suitable as long-term markers of human identity. When the technology which can recognize and differentiate between fingerprints is deployed in securing access to a door way, you get a “Fingerprint Door Lock System”.

However, a question which arises is that why should you not stick to the old lock and key? Or use some other alternative methods instead of going for the relatively expensive fingerprint lock systems. Well, not only are fingerprint door lock systems reliable and non-intrusive, there is also no danger of leaving your fingers at home or at office. Also, the fact that fingerprints are nearly always unique, makes fingerprint door locking system perfect with regards to security. And of course, you can hardly forget your fingerprints or even guess it, as is the case with an alphanumeric password.

How do fingerprint door locks work?

Okay, so let’s get down to how these locks actually work. Basically, fingerprint locks operate by scanning and converting your fingerprint data into a numerical template.

Once you place your finger onto the scanner for the first time the conversion into numerical data takes place, and the fingerprint template is saved. This process is then repeated every time you want to grant someone access. The next time someone places his/her finger on the sensor, it matches the data obtained through the finger with the pre-saved values. If a match is found, access is granted and the door opens. On the other hand, if its someone else trying to get through, access is not allowed and the door remains locked. Simple, no?

Now, matching the algorithm is the most important process here. This is usually achieved by the Minutia matching process. In this, several minutia points are located on your fingers pads, along with their position and direction when you register for the first time. This information is stored in the memory. While matching, the already stored fingerprint template is compared to the received input. If there is a match, a green LED usually signals it and the door is opened. The process is very quick and is completed in a fraction of a second. In case you are wondering, two instances of friction ridge skin impressions together constitute a minutia.

Disadvantages associated with fingerprint door lock systems

Fingerprint based systems while very useful do however have some disadvantages. And ironically enough, many of them stem from the system’s very virtues. While they are very, very hard to fool, it is not impossible. Scanners that use optical systems to obtain information can sometimes be fooled by an image of the finger. On the other hand, a person can get around capacitor based scanners by using a mold. These situations are avoided by using pulse and heat detectors also called live finger detection.

Another major issue with Fingerprint based door locks is that if someone does manage to create a copy/mold/image of your hand that can open doors, well, you are in deep trouble. Since you can’t really reset fingerprints the way you can with a normal password, it will mean either replacing locks or using a combination of pin and fingerprints.

Also, sometimes the scanner may refuse to recognize your finger in case of scarring or cuts or abrasions. Power cuts, battery discharge are other common issues associated with these door locking systems, which have the potential to leave you stranded outside your workplace or office. They are forestalled by integrating a mechanical system, where you can use a key to unlock the door in case of such a failure.

Advantages over other bio-metric systems

There are certainly other bio-metric systems as well that incorporate many of the advantages associated with Fingerprint locking systems. For example, iris scanning plugs the slight potential for security breaches left by fingerprint based systems. Voice based authentication on the other hand, lets you just speak to open the door without even requiring you to place your finger on it.

However, iris scanners are very expensive as compared to fingerprint door lock systems and many people may find the experience of getting their eyes scanned, uncomfortable. While it appears perfect for high security government installations, fingerprint door lock systems are much more affordable and comfortable when its out homes or offices that are being talked about.

Similarly, despite all its advantages, voice based bio-metric door opening systems have a very serious flaw. The rate of failure is very high. You may have a hoarse throat or a cold and the door will remain unyielding before you, refusing to recognize your voice.

What to look for in fingerprint door locks?

Now that you know all about fingerprint based door locks, you may be itching to get one and install it at your home or office. There are just a couple of things that you should keep in mind while getting a fingerprint based door locking system installed.

First of all, make sure that it has a keypad or a mechanical key slot. This will make sure that in case the system is unable to recognize your fingerprints for some reasons, say a cut or even a power failure, you have an alternative way to get in.

Make sure that you check the FRR (False Rejection Rate) as well as you don’t want to purchase one with a high FRR. Also, locks made of tough brass or steel are recommended over aluminum since they cannot be broken using a crowbar and back the intelligence of the Fingerprint scanner system with their sturdiness and strength.

Checking what powers the system is also a good idea. There are a whole range of systems available that may draw their power from batteries or that could be connected to your main power supply.

Also take a look at the number of fingerprints that can be stored — or in other words, the number of people that can be granted access at once. This is particularly important when you are using the system to secure the doors at your offices and require a lot of people to be able to go in and out.

Conclusion

Fingerprint locks are pretty awesome. Secure, affordable, non-intrusive and almost fail safe, these systems don’t require you to carry a key or remember a password. You can also grant access to as many people as you want and remove their access at your pleasure. In short, whether it’s your home that you want to protect or your office, definitely consider getting a fingerprint based door lock installed; it is very likely to prove to be worth your money.

By Danny Thakkar

Smart home security

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