Windows 8.1 will focus on biometrics for authentication [Update]

During the keynote, Microsoft said that they're focusing heavily on security with the updated release of Windows. One of the features they dug into later in the day is called "Provable PC Health," a cloud based service that checks your machine to determine whether it's been infected. Today we dig into another key security feature that Microsoft expects to be ubiquitous: Biometrics.

Chris Hallum, Senior Product Manager for Windows Client Security, gave us information about Microsoft's vision for implementing biometrics in the Windows Blue update. Specifically, the company wants fingerprints to be the best, easiest, and most common authentication method for all future computers and tablets. Although many laptops already have fingerprint readers built in, they require third party software and the registration process is difficult at best, two things that have been holding back adoption of the technology. In addition, the process is different depending on the software, and, aside from the Windows login process, most apps do not support biometrics. These things have delayed the adoption rates of biometrics.

To help meet this goal, Microsoft is teaming up with a company called Fingerprint Cards to produce high quality capacitive readers. They plan on working with OEMs to implement these readers in keyboards, laptops, tablets, and more. While Hallum was unable to give any specific release dates, he said they fully expect to see devices available by the end of the year. He also hinted that the Surface keyboard may receive this update first, but again this was not confirmed.

Unlike current readers that can be fooled with simple silicone replicas, modern scanners can tell whether the finger is alive or not. In addition, they work by simply placing your finger on the reader and not by swiping your finger along the scanner like current implementations.

Microsoft also expects that companies will embed this technology within their applications by using the provided API. A bank, for example, could create an app that shows your balance with just a password, but requires your fingerprint to withdraw money, thus improving security. Windows 8.1 will have this functionality included in Windows Store, Xbox Music, and Xbox Video to start. Unfortunately, this functionality will only be available in Modern apps.

Hellum was quick to point out that Microsoft has no plans to offer a way to centrally store a user's fingerprints. Integrating into Active Directory, while cool, would open up too many privacy concerns.

UPDATE: Chris Hallum reached out to clarify the comments on the Surface keyboard receiving a biometric reader in the near future. He said that he's not aware of any plans to implement readers on detachable keyboards since they may not be with the device when needed.

Fingerprint image from Shutterstock

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"During the keynote, Microsoft said that they're focusing heavily on security with the updated release of Windows. One of the features they dug into later in the day is called 'Provable PC Health,'"

The name (and concept) sort of reminds me of Palladium.

Another element to further reinforce the thought that Windows-8 is designed for single consumer use--certainly not any kind of meaningful office setting. (I guess the concept of sharing one PC amongst several users is now obsolete.)

what office doesn't assign everyone their own workstations nowadays? and it's not like you can't still go around and log in like you used to.

TsarNikky said,
Another element to further reinforce the thought that Windows-8 is designed for single consumer use--certainly not any kind of meaningful office setting. (I guess the concept of sharing one PC amongst several users is now obsolete.)

"Any kind of meaningful office setting"? How many offices assign multiple users to each workstation? I think that's more of a niche than you realize.

Hopefully FPC turns out to be a better company than Authentec which got bought out by Apple. Also they should do 2-factor already with biometric + pin/password

Hm, funny. This is coming from Microsoft, who didn't consider biometrics important enough to fully support it in the Modern/Metro environment...

And it was also Microsoft, who did so bad job when designing the Windows Biometric Framework that practically prevented any adoption of biometrics in applications, because the design was rather limited, difficult to use and in some cases erratically behaving.

But the good news is that Microsoft hopefully will now fix their mistakes, though they will never admit them. And Fingerprint Card's sensors are really good. Though quite more expensive than swipe sensors, I am curious to see how the manufacturer's will cope with that.

Edited by Jugger.naut, Jun 5 2013, 6:00am :

Jugger.naut said,
Though quite more expensive than swipe sensors, I am curious to see how the manufacturer's will cope with that.

Brad Anderson commented on this during the keynote. He said that they're currently more expensive, but implied that since Microsoft will be working with OEMs to put them in every machine, every keyboard, every everything, that the cost will go down to practically nothing. I don't see how that's going to work overnight, but we will see.

I would like an update for my Surface where I can enable the webcam to sign me in. Other than that, I'm all for biometrics, but prefer facial recognition to fingerprint scanning. And considering Kinect 2 is able to monitor body temperature, it should be simple to scan a face and tell it's a live human being vs a picture of one.

ZipZapRap said,
I would like an update for my Surface where I can enable the webcam to sign me in.

Can't beleive they didn't have it at the start perhaps Android hold a patent for it since they introduced it in the Galaxy Nexus.

chrisj1968 said,
who cares about biometrics on home user PC's?

oooo- looky!, a bunny! how cute and pretty!

So wait, any sarcasm aside, because you think a feature isn't important in the home that means it shouldn't be added in the end?

I use fingerprint for both my desktop and laptop, it's just easier than typing out long passwords every time. Surface RT unfortunately doesn't have a reader.

Who cares about biometrics when you still have to enter the damn windows live account password to login on your machine every damn time, especially on multi-user setups (with only one account you can at least enable autologon). I hope they'll address that as well.

francescob said,
Who cares about biometrics when you still have to enter the damn windows live account password to login on your machine every damn time, especially on multi-user setups (with only one account you can at least enable autologon). I hope they'll address that as well.

Just set up a four digit pin. That way, you don't need to type the password every time. It can be setup in PC Settings

Nazmus Shakib Khandaker said,

Just set up a four digit pin. That way, you don't need to type the password every time. It can be setup in PC Settings

It is being prompted every time that is annoying, typing a PIN or a password wouldn't change much, it's not like I have a 2000 characters password to type every time. In my case I think a PIN would take even longer to type since all the number keys are on the same row.

Funny, my IBM thinkpad has had a fingerprint reader from at least the days of XP. I am also happily using an eikon fingerprint reader to log onto Windows 7 on my desktop.

I have never had any difficulties or issues using them, and yeah "Silicon replica's" and dead fingers? come on guys - beatup much?

I wonder how anyone could possibly think this is a Windows 8 feature.

From the moment they purchased PerceptivePixel, and from the moment the Windows 8 Tablet is called Surface, I knew that PixelSense has no future anymore.

ummm, they covered that, read the article before commenting...Unlike current readers that can be fooled with simple silicone replicas, modern scanners can tell whether the finger is alive or not. In addition, they work by simply placing your finger on the reader and not by swiping your finger along the scanner like current implementations.

ummm, they covered that, read the article before commenting...

tegument said,
Unlike current readers that can be fooled with simple silicone replicas, modern scanners can tell whether the finger is alive or not. In addition, they work by simply placing your finger on the reader and not by swiping your finger along the scanner like current implementations.

tegument said,
ummm, they covered that, read the article before commenting...

ummm, I covered that in my reply, read the reply before commenting.