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No lawyer worth his salt wants unfriendly eyes poking around his computer. That’s obvious. Unfortunately, it’s also uncomfortably obvious that few devices can really keep the wrong people away from the sensitive documents, data and correspondence on one’s hard drive. Passwords can be hacked. Computers can be momentarily left unattended, allowing an intruder to jump onto the keyboard and go for a ride. What a litigator needs is a better security system — one that can determine that the person sitting at a machine is the right user. Enter the biometric security device. Biometric devices measure the physical traits of the person sitting at the computer and check those measurements against a pre-established database; if a fingerprint, voice, retina or whatever the device measures doesn’t match against the list of allowed users, access to the computer is denied. Computer equipment makers have been scrambling to offer simple, yet effective, biometric security. Most are some variation of fingerprint scanners, easy to install and understand. Given the numerous privacy obligations lawyers face every day, they’re worth considering. FINGERPRINT SCANNER Most intriguing is the U-Match computer mouse made by BioLink Technologies, with a fingerprint scanner built into the side. The U-Match mouse comes with a software application to manage user identities. Install the software, create a user profile and simply press your thumb against the scanner to confirm identity and gain access to the computer. The package retails for a suggested $120. The U-Match mouse can run in two modes: local, where the computer manages its own security, and remote, where a fingerprint is confirmed against a database stored on a separate server somewhere. The former is ideal for solo practitioners who want to keep their files to themselves; the latter is best for a firm with multiple computers managed from some central IT department. The BioLink authentication software generally asks for a fingerprint scan when a user starts up the computer. It also appears when the computer is in “sleep” mode and a person wants to start typing again. One drawback: The BioLink software cannot be easily integrated with specific applications. A user must re-install applications within a “password vault” that is part of the BioLink application itself if he or she wants, say, to require a fingerprint scan for an e-mail program. Possible, yes, but also a bit of a hassle. Each scan takes only a few seconds, so a rare misread isn’t really much of a nuisance. More impressive is BioLink’s ability to spot false fingerprints and reject them. In a week’s worth of testing, not once did the mouse allow access for a fingerprint that had not already been registered. More likely is that a person will encounter trouble with BioLink’s rather complicated system to manage user profiles. The software tries to walk a user through creating a profile and submitting a fingerprint to store in the security database, but the application isn’t really intuitive to use. For example, a user might find that he created a profile but failed to associate a fingerprint with that account, so when a print is checked, BioLink rejects it. A thick user’s guide helps to navigate this trouble, but it is a pain, especially for smaller firms without an IT expert. Of course, BioLink isn’t the only company hawking biometric security. OTHER VENDORS Hewlett-Packard has unveiled a new hand-held computer, the iPaq Pocket PC H5455, with a fingerprint scanner included. Users swipe a finger along a small sensor strip at the bottom of the iPaq, and the computer compares the print against its database. The H5455 has a suggested price of $700. Various vendors have stand-alone fingerprint scanners, not elegantly integrated into the computer mouse but still easily connected to the computer through a USB cable. HP has its Identix print reader that retails for $99, compatible with the iPaq and other HP or Compaq desktop computers. Targus Inc. sells the wonderfully named Defcon Authenticator for $120. (Fujitsu is promising a mouse that scans the palm print of a user, although that is still on the drawing board.) Biometric devices might not be fully combined into mass-market computer technology just yet, but the equipment is solid enough for the common lawyer to consider. If privacy and security are paramount concerns at a firm, there are few other ways to ensure that the fingers at a keyboard really belong to the rightful user. The choices out there aren’t terribly expensive, so those willing to take a leap of faith should go ahead and put their fingers on the buttons.

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