An Early Adapter of Electronic Security Now Moving Into Biometrics

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Credit Union: San Antonio City Employees FCU

Nominated By: Digital Defense

Nominated For: Deployment of network security

SAN ANTONIO-San Antonio City Employees FCU prides itself on being ahead of the curve when it comes to security.

According to Steve Schipull, senior vice president of finance and technology, the credit union was an early adopter of online banking in 1999, and was the first credit union in this competitive CU market to offer online bill pay in 2000.

"Before we deployed home banking, we did our due diligence. We wanted to do internal and external testing for penetration vulnerability; for holes that could be manipulated by outsiders," he said. It chose Digital Defense as its security provider.

In 2001, when SACEFCU opened a new branch, it introduced the first of three security applications that use biometrics-technology that identifies people by fingerprints, voice or iris scans, or other inimitable personal traits. In this instance, the credit union used a hand geometry access device, or palm scanner, for member access to safe-deposit boxes.

"Traditionally, housing safe-deposit boxes is a very time-consuming process," said Schipull. "A credit union employee must accompany the member into the box storage area with a second key. By using the palm scanner and a PIN, we made it self-service for our members, and our boxes only have one key."

In mid-2003, the credit union converted its internal network to a single sign-on using biometrics. Instead of memorizing user names and passwords, employees touch a fingerprint reader to sign on to their desktop computers. Because the enterprise version of the Digital Defense software resides in the system, Schipull explained, the employee's fingerprint allows him or her to access secure websites.

The third biometric application secures CU-issued laptop computers and is based on typing cadence.

"It has similar functionality to a fingerprint. You can tell someone your user name and password and they can't log on to your computer because no two people type alike," he said.

SACEFCU is investigating two additional biometric security possibilities for the near future: hand-scanning building access control to eliminate keys, and having members use fingerprint devices for home banking. Schipull said the hardware costs of the fingerprint readers presently are a little high, but he is hopeful the price will come down.

San Antonio City Employees FCU's president and CEO, Tim Haegelin, describes the credit union as 98% secure. When told that figure, Schipull laughed and said: "You can never be 100%, but we're really proud of what we've done and we continue to look for innovations. Tim is a very technology-friendly CEO, which is good, because it improves our security posture greatly having him on board."

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