Company briefDaon rides biometric wave

Published 26 August 2008

Founded in 2000, Daon initially looked at selling biometrics to the financial industry as a way for people to make secure purchases; then 9/11 happened

After 9/11, governments around the world increasingly sought ways to assure that a person using a passport or other ID documents was who he claims to be. That opened large government markets for Daon, which sells biometric security software. Now the industry is moving from fingerprints and iris scans to multimodal biometrics, says Cheryl Walker Waldrup, Daon director of global marketing.

Founded in 2000 and funded by a single investor, Daon initially looked at selling biometrics to the financial industry as a way for people to make secure purchases. “Then 9/11 happened and we refocused our approach,” says Waldrup. Currently, Daon has installed and licensed its biometric security software on five of the world’s seven continents, and recently added a Latin American office, “So we hope to increase the number to six very soon,” says Waldrup. “Since there are no permanent residents in Antarctica, we don’t anticipate much activity there,” she quips. 

The reason for its success, she explains, is countries need cooperative, interoperable security systems so their border management systems work together. “The European Union (EU) is a classic example, ” she says. Once a terrorist or criminal enters the EU through the borders of one of its twenty-seven member countries, it is relatively easy to move about the rest of Europe, so it’s very important that each member country have the same safeguards in place to identify visitors. “The same concerns exist at the borders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico.”

Allan Maurer writes in TechJournal South that the 150-employee company is growing and hiring weekly, she says, looking for programmers, people with biometric expertise, and technical skills, and also sales staff. While finding people with actual biometric expertise can be challenging, the company’s management includes top experts in the field who can bring those with technical skills up to speed quickly, Waldrup says. 

Conor White, CTO, Cathy Tilton, VP of standards, and R. J. Langley, VP for major systems, are among the world’s top experts in biometrics. Tilton, for instance, is very active in the development of national and international biometric standards, currently serving as the U.S. head of delegation to ISO/IEC JTC1 SC37 subcommittee on biometrics. Tilton also chairs the BioAPI Consortium, is the international representative for INCITS M1 technical committee on biometrics, and chairs the M1 Ad Hoc Group on Biometrics in e-Authentication.

Nations securing their borders, seaports, airports, and other sensitive areas since 9/11 has driven its growth, but the company is looking at potential consumer markets. It is already engaged in adding biometrics to various programs like TWIC, Registered Traveler, US-VISIT, and others aimed at helping travelers navigate security more quickly. By using biometrics for identity assurance, security officials can be certain that a person entering their border, seaport, airport or government facility is who they claim to be, Waldrup notes. “Visitors can move faster through security lines as their biometrics are matched quickly and efficiently, often using a kiosk or other automated mechanism, which frees the security officer to focus his/her attention on unknown visitors,” she says. 

Early on, the biometrics industry focused on fingerprints, which met with some resistance. “When people heard the word “biometrics” they immediately thought of fingerprints. And, unfortunately, many people associate fingerprinting with criminals, which may account for some of the resistance we’ve seen around the adoption of biometrics in the past,” says Waldrup. Now, however, other biometrics are coming forward. “While fingerprint identification remains a large segment of our industry, the technology has moved beyond that single biometric and now includes voice, iris, facial recognition and even some behavioral characteristics such as gait,” says Waldrup. For a solid ID, mutimodal is always better, she notes. 

The best case scenario, in terms of accuracy is with the fusion of multimodal biometrics,” she says. “That’s where Daon products really shine. Our platform was designed to accommodate multimodal biometrics and fusion of these various modalities. Many of the government programs around the world have moved to multimodal.” Daon’s scientists are working on voice ID, “And we think it will be very big for us,” says Waldrup.

Most of Daon’s installations are for clients with large populations with up to 50 million records. Its software is technology agnostic and works in plug and play simplicity with other technology platforms. The company is also pursuing some state clients, particularly in the real ID arena, which would help make documents such as a driver’s license much more secure, harder for a thief to use, and nearly impossible to fake.