7/09/2013 @ 11:22AM |2,299 views
Big Brother's Tracking Shines Light On Emerging Facial Recognition Technology
by Gavin P. Sullivan
Snowden this, Snowden that… The surveillance capacity revealed by the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Prism program is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cyber security tools our tech wizards’ are rolling out. And Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) is one area where large technology and security firms are looking for buys.
What is surprising from the Snowden leaks, so far, is the one-dimensional nature of the text and voice data that were intercepted, stored and analyzed by private contractors at SAIC SAI +0.21%, Northrop Grumman NOC +1.54%, Narus (a subsidiary of Boeing BA +0.27%), and Booz Allen, said one industry source.
Nowadays, with a single high-resolution snap shot, FRT, has the ability to map out a biometric profile that is as individually unique as a human fingerprint. With images sharing the same binary 1 and 0 sequences as text, the source noted that big data software and storage capacity currently exists to construct a truly three-dimensional profile of, well, anyone with a digital image online.
“Defense is big business. No, it’s the biggest business,” the source said and noted that in the realm of cyber security, biometric data collection and surveillance is the name of the game, and not just for Big Brother, but increasingly for enterprise and consumer security applications as well.
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Whether you know it or not, FRT is becoming an everyday fact of life, said Joe Rosenkrantz, CEO of Camarillo, California-based FRT company, FaceFirst. From the Department of Defense, to local police departments, to big box retailers, and of course Facebook FB +0.82% and Google, FRT is now a reality of modern life and quickly becoming a highly attractive commodity product. Rosenkrantz noted that as early as 2006 an FRT algorithm was developed that surpassed the human ability for facial recognition, and has grown leaps and bounds in effectiveness and adoptability ever since.
Founded in 2007, FaceFirst has experienced triple digit revenue growth in recent years, and according to Rosenkrantz is being courted “all the time” by big security players looking to stay ahead of the curve in the burgeoning biometric space. Although he wouldn’t offer the names of the suitors, he did point to Dresden, Germany-based peer, Cognitec, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida-based, CrossMatch Technologies, and Billerica, Maryland-based MorphoTrust as formidable competitors in the biometric space.
In addition to these companies, the industry source pointed to Aware (Nasdaq: AWRE), Smartmatic, and Avalon Biometrics notable companies also operating in the biometric space.
As reported, MorphoTrust was the result of the USD 1.09bn acquisition of Connecticut-based, L-1 Identity Solutions, by French aerospace and defense giant, Safran (EPA: SAF), in July 2011. L-1 was merged with Safran subsidiary, Morpho, to form MorphoTrust. CrossMatch was acquired by San Francisco-based private equity firm, Francisco Partners, in July 2012. Avalon was acquired by French smartcard giant, Gemalto, early last month.
In considering potential suitors, the source said that if it can’t be built in-house, expect usual suspects like IBM, Cisco Intel, Boeing, NEC, Microsoft, and Amazon to be out sniffing around for buys, especially as the consumer side of this business continues to take shape.
“Look, its not a question of if your computer, car, or house will use biometric-based security. It’s a matter of when,” said McAfee CTO, Michael Fey. The tools have come of age and are ready to be deployed on a massive scale within the consumer space, he noted.
In May, McAfee in partnership with its parent, Intel, and Nuance, launched LiveSafe, which is an unlimited cross-device security system that uses facial and voice biometric data to authenticate user access, and which is geared towards the individual consumer.
Its about empowering the consumer, Fey said and noted that with many personal devices already collecting biometric data in the form of image, voice, location and text, its time that consumers start to use that data to their advantage in the form of enhanced security.
In considering the potential for M&A, Fey noted that McAfee has been fortunate in being able to tap into Intel’s vast IP to develop LiveSafe, but that there are plenty of ripe biometric targets in the space for anyone looking for a buy in. He added that as this market takes shape, it will become increasingly difficult for smaller biometric firms to survive as they won’t be able to rely on a single technological feature, i.e. FRT, to sell a comprehensive security solution.
If the government is already triangulating your identity, why shouldn’t you?