Microsoft Fingerprint Reader

Microsoft Fingerprint Reader

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Update on 3/26/3009: I recently received an official communication from our hardware group that is germane to this old blog post:

Thanks for your interest in Microsoft Hardware products.  The Fingerprint Reader is no longer being manufactured by Microsoft but we recognize it may still be available from retailers and resellers.  The product runs on 32-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. Microsoft will not be releasing any updates for the product to run on 64-bit versions of Windows XP or Windows Vista. The product is not supported on Windows 7 (32-bit or 64-bit).  To ensure this is clear to our customers, the product will not install on Windows 7 (the user is warned that the application will not run). 

If you currently use the Fingerprint Reader and are unable to use your product with 64-bit versions of Windows XP or Windows Vista or the Windows 7 beta release, please visit the following Web site for assistance: http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/support/fingerprintreader.mspx.

For a couple years now, I've been happily using a DigitalPersona fingerprint reader. It was given to me at one of our internal events, and I had let it sit on my shelf collecting dust wondering why I'd ever need a biometric security device to logon to my machine. Then, one day, I ran across it while looking for something else, and I decided to plug it in and give it a try. Unfortunately, the personal edition of the DigitalPersona device wouldn't allow me to logon with my fingerprint unless I was using the Windows XP Welcome Screen option (and I prefer the Windows Classic Logon). So I was just about ready to disconnect it and put it back on the shelf to collect more dust when I read that I could use it to provide usernames and passwords for web sites I frequently visit. Interesting.

Basically, you visit a site that requires authentication, touch the reader with one of your registered fingers, then tell the fingerprint software what it should enter into selected fields on the web page. You can also indicate whether or not you'd like the "submit" button on the page to be pressed. That's it! Now, the next time you visit that web page, you just touch the fingerprint reader, and everything is done for you. It's really that simple, and it makes logging into secure sites a breeze. I suppose it could be used for any site that has fields you'd like to fill in, but I've used it exclusively for authentication.

I knew that we had recently come out with our own Fingerprint Reader, and I figured that I could use my new computer purchase as an excuse to try it out. So, even though the DigitalPersona reader had never given me a single problem (other than the Windows XP logon restriction), I purchased the newer, slimmer, and sleeker-looking Microsoft version. And guess what I quickly discovered? It's also made by DigitalPersona! I was very happy to learn this, although I wondered if our version would provide any benefits over the older reader.

The Microsoft Fingerprint Reader does allow you to logon to your machine, even if you're using the Windows Classic Logon screen like me. Plus, the interface that allows you to configure fields and buttons on a web page is improved and very straightforward. As you can see in the screenshot, the software highlights the field on the web page (in this case, a Hotmail password field) that corresponds to the field that you are registering. Then, you can tell it which button to use to submit your information. In my case, it automatically selected the "Sign In" button for me. After I press OK, I'll never have to type these credentials again...I can just use one of my registered fingers.

One word of caution. I've discovered that the reader will not work more than a couple times when plugged into a Belkin F5U237 Hi-Speed USB 2.0 7-Port Hub. If I plug it directly into my computer, everything works as advertised. The fingerprint reader appears to require 260mA of power from the USB port, and from what I've read, the USB specification states that devices may use up to 500mA before they need to provide their own external power source.

I'm not sure why it doesn't work reliably when connected to the Belkin hub, but I've tried a number of things to diagnose the problem: I've plugged the hub directly into the wall (instead of through a surge protector), I've tried all of the ports on the hub, I've tried another hub of the same make and model, I've upgraded all of my USB drivers, and I've spent about 30 minutes on the phone with Belkin technical support. Although the support person I spoke with was very helpful, we were unable to successfully resolve my problem. I'll probably try a different USB hub to see if the issue I'm having is limited to this specific make and model. Update: I installed an Adaptec USB card, and everything now works fine. It appears that the problem is with the USB chipset on my motherboard (VIA).

Regardless of this slight hiccup, I am very happy with the new reader. For around $41 (or $39.88 if you live near a Sam's Club), this is a nice piece of hardware that offers a lot of convenience. If you're looking for unique and useful gift ideas for the upcoming holidays, this is one I'd highly recommend.

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  • Think I'm going to return it - was all excited to get it working, hooked it up, and no Firefox support AND no domain support. Blows both of my uses.
  • Works great but not with firefox. It also works very well using Novell authentication as well as other stand-alone applications requiring a password such as my GroupWise e-mail application. Hope microsoft will be able to revise their software to allow it to work with firefox.
  • Does it work under the old windows logon i dont use fast switching/welcome screen
  • Hi Michael,

    I too very much enjoy the convenience of the MS Fingerprint Reader. Although, I've experienced a very significant and time consuming problem with installation of the Digital Persona software breaking my personal digital certificate rendering Outlook encrypted emails completely unreadable.

    After literally more than 12 hours of troubleshooting - hours on the phone with MS h/w TS (which got no where) and more hours of troubleshooting, I finally found that restoring a backup of the System State from before the DP software was installed (no, unfortunately, a System Restore doesn't fix the problem), then exporting a copy of the digital certificate through Outlook, Tools, Security, re-installing the DP s/w and finally re-importing the digital certificate fixed the problem. Finally, the Fingerprint reader works and I can once again read encrypted emails!

    The System State restore is important b/c just trying to delete and re-import the digital cert doesn't do the trick.

    Could you please pass these details along to the FP h/w team and h/w tech support so others don't also bloody their head on the device!?

    Thanks!
  • I saw this thing in Sam's the other day and thought, "oh cool." I have a few more questions before I buy one though. Is it possible to use one reader on multiple machines? Can I use it at home and then take it to work with me? Or does the software license only allow one install on one machine? Are there any current competing devices out there to compare this to?

    Thanks! All the above comments and questions were very helpful.
  • Hi Nathan;

    It works fine on multiple machines. Always some hiccups with new roll outs. Hope DP releases some further info on Password Manager regarding the true security algorithm and if it is somewhat secure.
  • I bought this thing on a whim and now I don't know how I ever lived without it. I didn't realize how many times a day I typed in my password--everything from email to source safe.

    And I REALLY like the way it works with FUS. Just tuck your finger and it switches to that user. No problems whatsoever with the software or hardware.

    The biggest danger is that I'll forget my passwords! I keep them written down in my safe, and PGP encripted on a USB keychain disk.
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  • How do I login using only fingerprint and disable password box?
  • FWIW, I'm just not comfortable with the red light shining near my eyes all the time, so using some double-sided tape on the back of it, I mounted the little reader vertically on the right side of my keyboard with the touch surface facing right - away from my eyes. Being ride-handed, its an easy reach to touch a print.

    I purposely recorded serveral prints off-center and angled to allow for more realistic usage.

    Enjoy!
  • Great review Michael,

    This is very cool technology, which I had seen, but was apprehensive about, since I could not tell how it actually worked form the marketing literature. I have a few questions and comments.

    As I understand, the fingerprint reader provides two different authentication services:

    1) Authentication login for Windows XP operating system

    2) A simple credential manager (for IE forms)

    For #1, does this use a GINA plug-in? Perhaps that is why one user reported that after installing, they lost access to thier private key (likely stored via DPAPI), under the user's account that existed prior to installing the GINA plug-in? There was a comment that this doesn't work with Domains, but how does this work with Windows workgroups? Is there a "real" windows username and password that the fingerprint reader is protecting? Otherwise, how would one authenticate between workgroup computers. For example, on my home network, I have my user accounts (username and password) replicated on various computers to allow automated authentication for accessing files, printers, etc.

    For #2, does this work with the IE AutoComplete for user and passwords? Is this why they recommend that you don't use this for "important" usernames and passwords, in that the "credential store" that the fingerprint reader is protecting could be vulnerable, but not that the fingerprint technology itself is insecure?

    Is the fingerprint reader more for security or for convenience? If it is truely securing my Windows login, then I can write a program (eg. using DPAPI), that will encrypt data in the user context. If the user's login session is protected via the fingerprint reader, the whole computer would be more secure (regardless of whether one uses it for web passwords in IE).

    I am thinking about getting this for my kids for their home computers, this would be simpler than trying to have them remember their passwords in the home network workgroup (besides being pretty cool!). Are there any know problems with using the fingerprint reader for "kid fingers".

    If they work out the Domain login issue, this would also be great for our school computer lab (which currently uses Domain login authentication). It would be great to be able to have the students login to the lab computers using fingerprint authentication opposed to having them remember passwords (and the associated password management issues). How many users are supported for each device?

    Hmmm.. I haven't looked, but how do they plan to sell this to the corporate world if they don't support Domain login, or perhaps this is a consumer only device?

    Thanks.

    -rcme
  • I've had my reader for a few weeks now. Everything works OK except trying to use it for the "unlock computer" dialogue box - the one that comes up from a password-protected screensaver. Have to resort to typing in the id and password.

    Any ideas.
  • see my revew on digital persona here
    http://waltercedric.com/Mambo/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=149&Itemid=58
  • Hi, could someone explain this statement? I have been having problems logging onto Windows using the fingerprint reader. However, everything else was fine. Anyway, can some please explain what this means? Thanks!

    "IMPORTANT! If your computer is a member of a 'domain', you cannot use your fingerprint reader to log on to Windows."

    Thanks a lot, I appreciate it~~!

    ~~Eric
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