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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  • Can't believe this doesn't work with Netscape and/or Firefox. Come'on!
  • I just got this as a christmas present, I asked for fingerprint scanner. I am very disappointed that this device does not work with firefox. I read above that a supposed microsoft employee said that we should recommend it anyway to the 85% of the people who only use IE. Well, I don't think that the 85% of the people who only use IE are willing to try new products like this fingerprint reader, the 15% of us who are on the technological edge are trying out fingerprint scanners for the first time because we are interested in security and we generally are using firefox. I thought I could keep out of trouble using IE but just being careful of where I went and what I clicked on, I was sadly mistaken. I would not recommend this device to anyone. I will research other devices today and if I find something that does work with firefox I'm taking the microsoft fingerprint device back.
  • I got the MS Fingerpirnt Reader standalone for Christmas. In none of the articles and reviews I have read is there any mention of it having any trouble reading prints so I was surprised that it had so much trouble with my prints. Though I did not keep an exact count it seems like 90% of attempts were faulure. Most of the time there was no response from the reader at all. Many times I got a "flash" like like it was scanning but was followed by silence, no from the software indicating either success or failure. These the duration of the "flashes" ranged from about a half second to about 10 seconds with a few that quit only when I took my finger off. Of those times when I did get a "tone" most of the time it indicated faulure.

    Reading in the docs about possible recognition trouble with "dry" prints I rubbed in a little of the wife's skin conditioner but this but this brought no change in results. I cleaned the reader numerous times with the prescribed ammonia based cleaner but the trouble continued.

    I forget which one but a review mentioned the possibility of older folks having trouble due to their prints not being as pronounced as those of younger people. I am a somewhat high mileage 54 year old. Could this be the trouble?

    The troubles asside I was stunned to discover that there is no way enter, edit or delete passwords off line. Instead the user is forced to each individual password protected site in order to delete the user/pword file for that one site only. Only then can a new user/pword file be created. This must be repeated for each and every file that needs editing!!!!!

    I still have trouble believing that so simple and basic a feature as an editor was seemingly intentionally left out of the password manager. Is there something I missed here?

    If I am correct and there is no editor in Version 1.0 of the password manager will one be added in the future?
  • I got this as a Christmas gift, and am very sad that it doesn't work with Firefox. It is a very nice unit, and the software is easy to use. Is it really too much to ask for it to work with more than MS products? I seriously doubt it would have taken very much effort to integrate it with Firefox, we're talking a very small percentage of the over-all development cycle. This is something that should have been a requirement from the beginning of the development process. I'm not impressed.
  • I was wondering if there is an import/export feature in case you want to use it on a different PC.

    Cheers.
  • Actually, another question! Looks like the product from Digital Persona not only supports web logon but also applications. Is this also true with MS?

  • Joe L -

    I don't know my mileage, but I'm 58 and it recognizes my prints fine. For me, everything works as advertised except trying to use it to logon from a password-protected screensaver's "unlock computer" dialog box.

    Did you try the reader on another computer? And I do know that you have to follow the install steps exactly (I found this out the hard way).

    Also I agree with your complaint about the lack of any real password management functionality. This version barely deserves a 1.0.

    Bob Pierce
  • Somebody from the Netherlands wrote that he couldn't find it in the Netherlands. I've just bought it yesterday at Computercollectief in Amsterdam, www.comcol.nl. They have a shop and also do mail order.
  • Sony makes one too, which might work with Firefox, but it's three times the price! I saw it at amazon. Buy.com has the MS version for 41.00 and free shipping.
  • APC makes one that apparently allows the use of Firefox AND online banking, PLUS it costs LESS then the Microsoft unit! Life is good! You can see it here and at Buy.com:

    http://www.apc.com/tools/get_content/index.cfm?http://www.apc.com/products/family/index.cfm?id=246&fs=Mobile%20Computing
  • AngelArs,

    The APC one DOES NOT support Firefox. I went through this this weekend. For christmas I got the Microsoft scanner and my father was given the APC one. Neither work with Firefox which is very disappointing because we are both very dissatisfied with MSIE due to it's complete lack of security.

    So now we both have a light paper weight for our desks.
  • Bob Pierce

    The troubles that caused my MS Fingerprint Reader to fail miserably reading my prints may have been cured by further instalation work or an exchange for anther one but even if perfect recognition were acheived that would still leave my vast disgust at the lack of any real way to manage the passwords. They did not even include a method to back them up!!!! What in Heaven's name were these people thinking when they released a product without such basic functions? So back to the store it went.

    I shall keep an eye on Microsoft and Digital Persona to see if they sober up and build an editor and back-up into the next software update. If they do I may try agian.

    I am also going to take a look at the APC unit "AngelArs" mentioned earlier. The APC unit uses something called "TruePrint Sensor Technology". Googling that I came up with:

    http://www.findbiometrics.com/viewnews.php?id=372

    "Used to replace PINs, passwords, physical access cards and keys, AuthenTec's TruePrint(R)-based sensors provide the most convenient and reliable fingerprint security solutions available today for the PC, wireless, access control and automotive markets. AuthenTec's patented TruePrint technology allows fingerprints to be read below the surface of the skin to the live layer -- or true fingerprint. As such, TruePrint is not affected by common skin surface conditions including dry, worn, calloused, dirty or oily skin that can affect other sensors' ability to acquire accurate fingerprint images for user authentication purposes. Uniquely, TruePrint is the only fingerprint sensor technology capable of acquiring anyone's fingerprint under virtually any condition."

    Ignoring for the moment any potential corporate advertising hooey: if the fingerprint reading problem was due to my "high-mileage" hands these guys may have the fix.

    The makers of "TruePrint Sensor Technology" is "AuthenTec Inc." and have a site here: http://www.authentec.com/

    There is a "Where to Buy" link on the site that includes the APC unit and many others. I have not yet made a decision to buy any of them but hopefully there is one in there that looks worth a try.
  • It doesn't look like it's possible to use the MS reader to store multiple personas, other than (presumably) by using different Windows accounts. I'd like to be able to use my fingerprint to access (say) my Hotmail account, and dad to be able to use his fingerprint to access his Hotmail account, without switching Windows users. Does anyone know if this is possible?
  • Bob,

    I've used both the MS and the APC unit. While I'm very disatisfied with the MS units software the APC units software was no better; the software was severely lacking. As I mentioned previously the APC units software also does not support Firefox (which may or not be a factor for you) and does not seem to have any more functionality than the software with the MS unit.

    Now as for the hardware the APC unit does seem to use a different technology for acquiring prints. The MS unit uses an optical system and the APC unit seems to have a sensor that sees the conductivity of your skin in some way to see the print. It takes a very good image of the print, but so does the MS unit (for me anyways).

    The APC unit is my fathers and he is 61 now and it had no trouble reading his prints, so "high mileage" may not be a factor with it.
  • Joe L, I purchased the APC unit yesterday at Circuit City. I told the salesman that buy.com had it for 34.00 and they reduced the price of theirs from 49.99 to 33.00 :) I must say that it is a great piece of technology. I especially like their feature where I don't have to enter in a fingerprint/passowrd at all. The unit senses the login screen and automatically sends the correct information to the screen. This takes less than a half of a second and most times you hardly notice the login screen at all :) You can also modify the passwords later, and up to 20 people can use the same sensor. APC is a great company and my UPS from them has NEVER had ANY kind of a problem at all. Wish APC made cars :)

    PJ, I am going to ask APC's tech support more about the Firefox issue. I don't use Firefox but I see some of you do, so it would be nice to know what APC's plans are regarding this. I'm sure they will resolve the problem faster than Microsoft will :)

    As for the functionality of the software VS. the Microsoft software, first of all the Microsoft unit ONLY uses Win XP. However the APC unit can be used with Win 98, Win ME, Win 2K, and Win XP. Also, you can edit the passwords with the OmniPass software that APC uses, but you cannot edit then in the MS software, at least that's my understanding of it. Also the security issue is much better with the APC unit. Here is my understanding of how APC's works; First "the fingerprint image" is itself encrypted with the XTEA encryption algorithm using a 128-bit key! Next, that data is encrypted AGAIN using DPAPI. The user account information is associated with the fingerprint template and these are signed using an RSA private key maintained by CryptoAPI. When users enter passwords into the software to replace log-in info, the user-names and passwords are first encrypted with the XTEA encryption algorithm using a 128-bit key! Next they are encrypted in DPAPI, which uses the user's unique private Windows password to derive the key, and entropy from the application. As if that's not enough, they are encrypted STILL AGAIN with a 3DES key which is itself protected by an RSA keypair.

    Mike Clarkson, I don't think the Microsoft unit allows for that, but the APC unit allows up to 20 people to access it, and it even supports multiple languages. It also has a two year warranty VS. a one year with Microsoft’s. Multiple users can switch accounts directly and easily by right clicking on the icon in the taskbar. Hope that helps.
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