Interview With Kim Kristian Humborstad, CEO, Zwipe AS

ZwipeNLWith ISC West 2014 in full swing, the biometrics industry is buzzing with physical access control news and announcements and when it comes to discussing security system deployments the conversation inevitably turns to the major barriers of adoption.

One company that attacks the biometric adoption barriers by virtue of design is Zwipe AS, whose physical access control solution – a smart card featuring an embedded capacitive touch sensor – is a cost effective strong authentication upgrade to existing security infrastructure. Peter O’Neill, president of findBIOMETRICS (fB) had a chance to interview Zwipe CEO Kim Kristian Humborstad (Zwipe) about this product and how the company perceives the current password problem.

Those attending ISC West can find Zwipe at booth #5055.

fB: Zwipe was founded in Norway in 2009, please tell us about the genesis of the company?

Zwipe: Zwipe was started in 2009, a few months after I completed my studies. After winning several awards for the biometric card concept, including the Best Young Enterprise Innovation award in Europe, we were able to secure several senior level industry executives as members of our board of directors.  Following the first round of funding from the Norwegian government and angel investors, we were able to hire our first employees and begin increasing development efforts. Since then, we have been perfecting the core technology for Zwipe biometrics and entered into agreements with partners in the industry to commercially launch the product. Our newest product will be launched at ISC West.

fB: We held a webinar with the FIDO chairman Michael Barrett this past December and the title was, “The Password is Dead”; please tell us about your new Zwipe Access product and how it might help also assist in getting rid of the password?

Zwipe: At Zwipe, we like to say that we are changing the password from something you know, to something you are.  The foundation of a password or PIN only security system is fraught with potential failings, from the aggravation of needing to continually change your password, to someone outright hacking it.  If your password becomes your fingerprint, it is not only more convenient, but also more secure.

What differentiates Zwipe’s two-factor authentication technology is it is implemented entirely on a card platform. The fingerprint scanner is visible on the card surface and when you touch the scanner you activate an algorithm in the card, which will perform a match query with a template also stored on the card. Not only is the biometric verification process executed on the card, but the users biometric information is stored only on the card.  This eliminates the need to maintain an external database, which itself can be costly and vulnerable to hackers.  

Once a positive match is completed, the card releases a contactless communication string to, for example, a standard reader for access control. This card communication it is directly compatible with most contactless terminals in the industry, making the process of upgrading to biometrics both economically and operationally accessible.   We adhere to the ISO 14443 standard and use the energy from the reader’s RF field to power our technology on the card.  Because we use only the RF feed from the terminal for power, our cards never need a battery.

From the user perspective it is really simple; you place your finger on the card and it confirms your identity.  The entire process of authentication is done in less than a second.

fB: Can you please describe a recent deployment for us?

Zwipe: A prominent Norwegian law firm, Simonsen VogtWiig, is using the Zwipe biometric card not only for access control, but also for their printing platform. By keeping track of who prints what it not only import for their billing process, but is vital in making sure their clients’ sensitive information is not being accessed and printed by an unauthorized employee.  

The combination of increased security, increased accountability and simple installation were the prime selling points for Simonsen VogtWiig.  They appreciated that they were able to upgrade to a biometric card without the cost and downtime of replacing readers, as well as the decreased administrative costs surrounding lost cards and forgotten PIN numbers.

fB: So it is very easy to integrate your technology into existing legacy systems plus then the customer also saves on not having to deal with password reset problems, which are huge these days.

Zwipe: Absolutely. Our biometric card works seamlessly with the ISO 14443 reader infrastructure, and without the overhead of data maintenance for an external database.

fB: 2013 was a growth year for Zwipe with new key staff positions, additional funding and the general growth in the mobile biometric marketplace, please tell us about your successes in the past year?

Zwipe: Yes, 2013 was the year we really began to see our hard work and investments gain traction in the market.  In the beginning of the year, we were piloting our card extensively, and as a result, we were able to attract more and more customer interest.  This, in turn, allowed us to raise $3.5 million in investments.  

In addition, we have attracted additional senior level management, both on our board, with Clas Thelin as our new Chairman, and Pete Lowe, as our Chief Technology Officer.  At the beginning of 2013, we had 6 full-time employees, and a year later, we have 12, so yes, we have definitely been growing!

fB: Congratulations on a very successful start to your enterprise. In five years’ time how will the consumer market be utilizing biometrics and do you think that passwords will be gone forever in five years’ time?

Zwipe: That is a big question. Since the integration of a fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s, the market has been buzzing about other applications, such as mobile banking, mobile payments and government identification.  Mobile payments, in particular, are under increased scrutiny as a result of recent retail data breaches.  Will passwords be gone in five years?  Unlikely, but Zwipe’s technology is not simply about eliminating passwords, but about creating more secure transactions.  Over time, consumers will begin to be more comfortable with the technology and realize it is both more secure and easier to use.

In five years’ time you will see Zwipe with implementations in many different card segments both within the access control industry and outside. You will see our technology implemented in formats other than the card.  Biometrics technology is continuing to grow, and as an industry, it is really starting to mature.

fB: I couldn’t agree more Kim and thank you  for tell us about Zwipe Access.  I look forward to seeing it in action at Las Vegas at the ISC West Show conference this week.

Zwipe: Thank you for your time Peter.