Several influential companies in the financial industry are buying Sony Corp.'s new Fingerprint Identification Unit.

The FIU, as the device is known, can enroll, read, and verify fingerprints for access into a variety of applications, most notably automated teller machines, desktop computers, and buildings.

It can be used as a stand-alone unit or integrated into any type of transaction system.

In the past two months, Citicorp has ordered the Software Developer's Kit for Sony's FIU and is testing the "Puppy" Secure Logon System called FIS-002, which is used with the FIU and a Windows NT workstation.

Chase Manhattan Corp. began evaluating the FIU, along with other devices, for controlling employee access to secure areas.

Verifone Inc. is integrating the FIU into its smart card devices.

I/O Software of Riverside, Calif., is the distributor of the FIU for North and South America.

In conjunction with Sony's Bionics Department, I/O Software is also providing technical support.

The FIU will be released in the United States in August; evaluation kits are available now.

The system will retail at $650 for hardware, software, and the user manual.

I/O Software approached Citicorp and Chase first.

"It is important for us to concentrate on the banking industry, particularly with so much fraud around," said William Saito, co-founder and chief executive of I/O Software. "Fingerprint scanning is the up-and-coming technology and has the highest probability in terms of acceptance. We wanted banks' input to implement it. The banks gave us valuable feedback."

Mr. Saito added that financial institutions seem most interested in using the device for personal computer log-ons. "They feel it will be deployed internally before it reaches devices such as the ATM," he said.

Biometric technology consultant Samir Nanavati, general partner of the New York-based International Biometric Group, said FIU "has excellent potential when you do not have the full processing power of a PC readily available, for example, for door access or smart cards at point of sale. It's unique because it has all the processing power on board at a relatively low cost."

Verifone has shown interest in the device as a self-contained unit that can be attached to any point of sale or smart card system.

The FIU has a camera, internal central processing unit, and memory to store 1,000 fingerprint templates.

Once the biometric sensor is activated, the unit can verify a fingerprint in less than a second.

Mr. Saito said he sees authentication by user name and fingerprint as the most revolutionary advance.

"We have one-touch log-on, so if you were the last user at a PC then you can put your finger to the device and bypass all other log-on formalities," he said. The FIU also fully supports Windows NT as security for screen savers and workstation locking.

Mr. Saito does not discount working with other distributors in the future.

"We're looking for distributors in the banking arena," he said. "Our proficiency is as a software developer, and so if there is a distributor with banking expertise, we'd welcome their strength."

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