by Paul Korzeniowski
Security has been an ongoing concern with tablets. Recent moves by Apple Inc. illustrate a potential change in emphasis, with device suppliers incorporating more hardware based security solutions into their product lines.
In July, Apple Inc. decided to buy fingerprint sensor technology developer AuthenTec Inc. for about $356 million. The company, which was spun off from Harris Semiconductor in 1998 and went public in 2007, provides mobile security software to companies, like Samsung, and fingerprint sensor technology to computer makers, such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc.
Apple and AuthenTec have been working together since late 2011 to develop 2D fingerprint sensors for Apple tablets and smartphones. Once delivered, the technology will allow a user to unlock all of the system functions with a single swipe of a finger across a smart sensor. So rather than remember complex, ever changing passwords, individuals carry their access credentials with them at all times. As a result, adding fingerprint scanning to the iPad could improve security for features such as payments and boarding passes, and speed up the processing of such transactions. Fingerprinting fits into the category of biometric security solutions, a broad term that describes a variety of ways that computers check personal information before providing users with access to sensitive information.
Fingerprinting, voice recognition, facial recognition, and retina scanning are some of the possible techniques. To date, these solutions have garnered niche acceptance in the PC market and are even less developed in the tablet space.
A few fingerprinting solutions have emerged. BIO-key International, Inc., S.I.C. Biometrics and Tactivo have developed fingerprint scanners, and BahnTech, Empire Apps, iTankster.com, Kaufcom GmbH, and The Grizzly Labs have delivered fingerprinting applications. In Japan, consumers rely on fingerprint biometric security to protect NFC payments at Point of Sale terminals.
Voice recognition searches have become quite popular on tablets, so momentum is building for voice authentication. In fact, Nuance Communications, Inc. announced Dragon ID, voice biometric technology that lets people unlock mobile devices by using their voice.
With such new products emerging, Goode Intelligence forecasts that the current global user base of four million mobile biometric users in 2011 will grow to 39 million users by 2015 and worldwide revenue from $131 million to $161 million in the same time period.
However, the market faces hurdles. Biometric technology has existed for more than ten years, but has struggled to gain traction for a variety of reasons. The security checks add overhead and expenses to tablets. These devices have progressed to the point where the processing overhead is not a significant burden, but suppliers often compete on price and many have not wanted to add the extra expense to their systems.
Also, standards are lacking in the biometric space. Consequently, it becomes difficult for vendors and users to mix and match biometric hardware and software elements.
The solutions\’ accuracy rate has been improving, but is not 100% — estimates are in the mid to high 90s. Consequently, the security check may block executives from accessing needed information at crucial moments. In addition to biometrics, two other hardware based security solutions (semiconductor systems and Near Field Communications (NFC) are gaining traction. ABI Research pegged worldwide revenue for mobile security hardware at $430 million in 2012 and expects that number to reach $1.9 billion in 2017. \”The primary drivers for embedded security are increasing demand of mobile payment transactions, digital rights management, enterprise protection, and control access to the device,\” stated Joshua Flood, senior analyst, devices, applications & content.
In the near term, ABI Research expects that bulk of the revenue to come from embedded security chips. One example is ARM Ltd.\’s TrustZone technology, which extends security functions to various hardware components such as internal memory and screens.
NFC is a set of standards, so mobile devices can establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity, usually no more than a few centimeters. This technology has been gaining traction in the area of mobile financial transactions.
Revenues generated for NFC is relatively small at the moment because the needed foundation is not yet in place. In 2011, few tablets shipped had NFC capabilities, but that is changing as industry giants like Apple Inc. and Google Inc have begun trumpeting the technology. In addition, Point of Sale applications, like purchasing coffee, transportation vouchers, and cinema tickets, have begun to emerge. As a result within two years, ABI Research\’s Flood expects NFC security to eventually account for about half of mobile device hardware security revenue.
As mobile devices work their way into the enterprise, corporations need tools to secure them. While software solutions will continue to be popular, hardware based security will soon become more widely accepted.
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer specializing in technology issues. He is based in Sudbury, Mass. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.