Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals has teamed up with two data security companies to make smart cards into portable biometric authentication devices.

The system, being demonstrated this week at the Cardtech/Securtech West conference in San Jose, Calif., combines a fingerprint scanner from American Biometric Co. of Ottawa, Canada, and public key infrastructure technology from Entrust Technologies of Richardson, Tex.

Scheduled for availability in the first quarter, the system will be one of many entrants in the race to provide a more robust and reliable alternative to personal identification numbers. Various biometric alternatives-finger or handprints, voice verification, eye scanning-are vying for attention. There is also growing interest in using smart cards to hold biometric data and the digital certificates that banks and other companies will issue to employees, customers, or trading partners for on- line authentication and nonrepudiation of transactions.

"With smart cards, user authentication that was previously confined to one computer can now easily be portable to multiple computers and operating systems, providing the cross-platform mobility needed in today's international marketplace," said Mehrzad Mahdavi, director of information security for Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals, North America.

The combined technologies "enable a smart card to securely serve multiple functions, such as storing passwords for log-in to multiple networks, storing digital certificates for secure portability of user credentials, and acting as an employee badge for building access."

By working together, these companies are hoping to overcome the chicken- and-egg problem of deploying security technology before there is a card- reading infrastructure, or vice versa. Cable and Wireless Omnes, a company 50% owned by Schlumberger, will offer systems integration support.

Schlumberger has already integrated Entrust/PKI products into its Cryptoflex 8K and Multiflex 8K microcomputer cards. Its Reflex readers and American Biometric's BioMouse Plus are also part of this package.

"We believe that this combined solution is exactly what customers need to facilitate the rollout of a security infrastructure," said American Biometric general manager Marshall Sangster. The Canadian company is owned by DEW Engineering and Development Ltd. Its system digitizes biometric data on a central server, personal computer hard drive, or smart card. The BioMouse scanner comes in a PC-insert card version for laptops.

Mobility and multi-factor authentication are "important elements" for corporations that want to secure such things as remote-employee access and laptop data, said John Ryan, president of Entrust Technologies, a leader in public key infrastructure systems and a spinoff of Northern Telecom of Canada. The three-way partnership, he said, can "help promote the growth of secure electronic commerce by increasing any organization's mobility in a flexible, highly secure, and cost-effective manner."

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