Boardroom
Aware

In The Boardroom With...

Mr. David Benini
Director Product Marketing
Aware, Inc.
www.aware.com/biometrics
Nasdaq:AWRE


SecurityStockWatch.com: Thank you for joining us today, Dave. Please give us an overview of your background and a brief company history.

David Benini: As director of product marketing, I am involved in a variety of activities including product planning, business development, partnerships, outbound marketing, and sales. I also represent Aware at biometrics standards meetings, where I serve as editor for a few biometrics standards in progress.

Aware is a public company [NASDAQ:AWRE] incorporated in 1986 with about 120 employees based near Boston. We provide DSL modem silicon chip technology and test and diagnostics products, as well as imaging and biometrics software components. They have in common some core mathematics that applies to both DSL and image compression technology.

The investor community often associates Aware primarily with our DSL business, but we have also played an important role in the biometrics industry since the early 1990s, when we helped the FBI develop “WSQ” compression optimized for fingerprint images. WSQ was used by the FBI to digitize millions of fingerprint cards, which in turn helped enable law enforcement agencies around the country to submit fingerprint files electronically for search. The resulting system helped form the basis of what we now know as “AFIS”, or automated fingerprint identification systems. Today, WSQ is the de facto compression standard used around the world for fingerprint images, and Aware provides integrators and product vendors with WSQ implementations along with a wide variety of fingerprint and facial biometric software components. We continue to be a leading innovator in the industry, consistently introducing valuable biometrics software components that our customers then use to build their own customized solutions. We are also applying our expertise to new markets, such as border management and identity assurance.

SecurityStockWatch.com: Please give us an overview of Aware solutions in the biometrics markets.

David Benini: Aware software components are modular, commercial off-the-shelf, or “COTS” products that our customers use as building blocks for larger systems; they are the antithesis to proprietary, monolithic solutions. Our software performs a wide variety of important image and data processing functions needed throughout a biometric system. They include automated fingerprint and facial image capture, processing, 1:1 matching, quality assurance, and data formatting.

For example, our “FastCapture” product works with fingerprint scanners from several vendors to automate the fingerprint capture process and ensure that a full set of high-quality images can be taken as quickly as possible. “PreFace” similarly automates facial image capture, making the photographer’s job much easier. It also prevents non-compliant images from being captured so that false matches and missed matches can be reduced. “NISTPack” provides all the software needed to submit fingerprints to an AFIS background check, including creation of the data files in compliance with strict FBI requirements. “PIVSuite” bundles several important functions used for the new “PIV” federal employee ID card initiative. Finally, we have recently launched our fourth-generation service-oriented server product, our “Biometric Workflow Platform” (BWP). It’s essentially a very smart and flexible biometric data router that manages transport of biometric files throughout a system, and also performs advanced biometric image and data processing on-board.

SecurityStockWatch.com: What is your perspective on the market drivers in the biometrics market?

David Benini: There are essentially three biometric market segments: government, enterprise, and consumer. The substantial increase in demand for security applications among government agencies has resulted in rapid growth in the government market. Applications include border management (for example, fingerprint collection in passport lanes), and identity assurance (federal employee ID cards and e-passports). The demand is causing rapid, competition-driven technological advances as well as mandated creation and adoption of standards. The enterprise market will benefit from these trends initially driven by federal programs but quite applicable to enterprise applications, such as logical and physical access control. The consumer market is already similarly benefiting, with high-volume deployment of biometric authentication products occurring in a wide variety of devices including cell phones and laptops.

It’s a global trend. As has happened in the biometrics industry in the past (the FBI requirement mentioned before drove the global AFIS market), standards and technology driven by U.S. demand are feeding growth around the world. E-passports are a more current example, which were required for countries to maintain their visa-waiver status with the U.S.

SecurityStockWatch.com: How has this affected the evolution of biometrics technology and products?

David Benini: When we started in this business, the typical end-user in a large-scale federal biometrics system was a highly-trained law enforcement official taking fingerprints from a crime suspect who had nothing but time. Today it’s more common to have less-experienced operators needing to collect biometrics in 15 seconds instead of 15 minutes. And, the databases are growing exponentially, making it more difficult to make a reliable match. The result is a much greater emphasis on data capture automation and quality. This is an area where Aware image scientists spend a lot of time. A biometric system is only as good as the data it contains, and that has become quite evident in systems that ramped up faster than their biometric data QA mechanisms.

Other important trends are 1) the growing importance of interoperability between disparate systems, and 2) the use of multiple biometric modalities (face, finger, iris, etc). When multiple biometric databases can be linked together, their effectiveness can increase substantially. And if we can collect multiple biometric types from people, they tend to complement each other and can dramatically improve matching performance—that is, fewer false matches and missed matches.

But all this added complexity requires more open and sophisticated networking platforms to effectively integrate these different systems. Fortunately, standards work at M1, ISO, and OASIS has made great strides in providing the biometric data interchange standards that such complex systems will rely upon. Standard-compliant data interchange is also a big focus of our work here at Aware.

SecurityStockWatch.com: Are there one or two success stories you’d like to mention?

David Benini: All government agencies must upgrade their ID systems and achieve compliance with the new PIV requirements defined by FIPS 201. PIV is a program mandated by a “Homeland Security Presidential Directive” to standardize technologies and procedures for issuing ID credentials to federal employees and contractors.

We recently announced that NASA has used our Biometric Workflow Platform (BWP) and PIVSuite products to upgrade their ID card system. An integrator used our PIVSuite biometrics software components to develop NASA’s new biometric enrollment workstation, and Aware’s BWP to connect the new workstations with legacy NASA systems, including the identity management system. The BWP also processes and submits the background check files to the Office of Personnel Management or FBI.

From the day we were asked to help, NASA was able to conduct a biometric enrollment proof-of-concept in under five weeks, and a fully functional test system able to produce compliant PIV cards was in place in just twelve weeks. This was due in large part to the flexible, configurable, service-oriented nature of the BWP product, but also to some very hard development and support work. This “overlay” strategy enabled by the BWP reaped large benefits in terms of risk and cost reduction.

SecurityStockWatch.com: What resources such as “White Papers” are available for end-users on Aware.com?

David Benini: Aware has several white papers about biometrics available for download at www.aware.com/biometrics

SecurityStockWatch.com: We understand that you will be speaking at the I-Pira Biometrics Series. May we have an overview of the key subjects you’ll be addressing?

David Benini: The i-Pira session in which I’ll be participating is about biometrics middleware. The panel will present middleware technologies and standards used to link together different biometric system components—for example, enabling remote workstations to interoperate with databases, identity management systems, and matching systems from multiple vendors.

I will personally be discussing biometrics middleware from Aware’s perspective. I’ll talk generally about what middleware is and is not, and a little about the evolution of middleware and its importance to PIV. I’ll then focus on some case studies including the BWP deployment at NASA mentioned earlier, and about some of the challenges specific to those cases and how they were addressed.

SecurityStockWatch.com: Thanks again for joining us today, Dave. Are there any other subjects you’d like to discuss?

David Benini: I encourage your readers to attend the i-Pira event if they can, and feel free to email me here at Aware if they have any questions. dbenini@aware.com. Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you.