Interview: Won Lee, President and CEO of SecuGen


Peter O’Neill, president of findBIOMETRICS (fB), recently had the opportunity to interview Won Lee, president and CEO of SecuGen (SG). The discussion  begins with an overview of the company history, its product line and business model, before getting into the details of SecuGen’s expansion into India and how the company is going to be making moves in the mobile space.

fB: Please provide our readers with a brief background of your company.

SG: SecuGen was founded in the US in 1998 by myself and Jay Ahn who had come to the US from Korea. The next year saw the release of SecuGen’s first products based on fingerprint sensors: the EyeD Mouse and the FDA01 stand-alone module. Jay and I saw the enormous potential for biometrics beyond the world of law enforcement.

Since those early days, we have become more focused on supplying fingerprint technology and products to biometrics resellers.  We have continuously expanded our partner network and have worked ceaselessly to develop and provide the tools that they need to compete effectively in today’s market.

Today, as in 1998, we are headquartered in Silicon Valley. In addition to our main location in Santa Clara, California, we have SecuGen Korea and SecuGen India. SecuGen is one of the world’s leading vendors of optical fingerprint sensors and products.

fB: Can you please describe SecuGen’s range of products?

SG: SecuGen’s products start with its optical fingerprint sensors, the SDOPP03P, SDU03P, SDU04P and U20. Using those sensors we manufacture a line of fingerprint peripherals and a line of OEM sensors.  The peripherals include the Hamster Plus, Hamster IV and Hamster Pro 20 as well as the iD-Serial, iD-USB SC and iD-USB SC/PIV. 

SecuGen focuses a great deal of its efforts on designing and manufacturing very high quality sensors.  Our patented technology allows us to capture clear, high contrast images. The better the images are the better are the resulting templates that can be extracted and the more accurate the subsequent matching. It is not an exaggeration to say that virtually all of our hardware products start with a very high quality sensor.

The Hamster line of fingerprint readers are single finger capture devices.  The Hamster IV is PIV certified and the Hamster Pro 20 is FAP 20 Mobile ID certified.  Both the Hamster IV and Hamster Pro 20 are also STQC certified for use in India’s UID project.  Our Hamster fingerprint readers are widely deployed and well known around the world as having high quality and being reasonably priced.

The iD-Serial is, a single finger capture device that, as the name implies, is a serial interface device for use in circumstances, such as point of sale, where there is not a USB port available to host the fingerprint reader.  

The iD-USB SC and iD-USB SC/PIV are combination devices that integrate a single finger capture device with a contact smartcard reader.  As the name implies the iD-USB SC/PIV is PIV certified.  These combination readers provide great convenience in any setting where the application requires the use of both a contact smartcard and a fingerprint reader.

On the OEM side we have the SDA04P and SDA04PIV.  These are serial interface OEM modules that our customers are using in Access Control Devices, Time & Attendance machines, ATMs, and countless other devices.  These products are fast, have large capacities, storing up to 10,000 users, and are affordably priced. The SDA04PIV is PIV certified.

Increasingly we are selling our USB OEM sensors, the SDU03, SDU04P and U20.  Embedded systems have become very powerful and many devices today basically have little Linux or Android PCs inside with USB host ports.  Our new U20 USB sensor has been extremely well received.

In addition to our hardware products we have a suite of SDKs available for all of today’s widely used operating environments, Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi, and Android.  The template extraction and matching algorithms embodied in these SDKs are MINEX compliant.  All of our 1:1 matching SDKs are completely free for use with our fingerprint readers.

fB: Can you please tell us about your business model?

SG: SecuGen promotes its products exclusively through reseller channels.  We partner with hardware OEMs, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) as well as Value Added Resellers and Systems Integrators (VARs/ISVs).  We focus on designing and manufacturing a broad range of fingerprint products and components that allow our partners to address the needs of the broadest range of end-users.  We are active all over the world with partners on every continent except Antarctica.  

Our product development focus is and has always been, to create products that are highly accurate, rugged, and affordable.  

fB: SecuGen has a long history of serving the global biometric industry going back to 1998. Are you excited about what is happening with mobility and biometrics these days?

SG: We are excited about the rapid acceptance of fingerprint biometrics, in the US and around the world, for enhancing security and increased convenience.  There is an explosion of use of mobile devices for e-commerce and mobile devices are ubiquitous as clients being used for access to corporate and personal data.  It is natural for biometrics to be extended into these new computing environments.

We have been very sensitive to this evolution and have developed a new, much smaller sensor called the U20 in response.  In addition, our SDKs now support Android and Raspberry Pi.

We remain committed to producing the best possible fingerprint readers that will be suitable regardless of how the computing environment evolves.   

fB: You expanded your global footprint with an office in India last year. Why India and why now?

SG: Among our very first partners in 1999 were some Indian companies.  We have been selling our products there since then and have done quite well at it.

A few years ago India launched the largest biometric related project ever attempted.  This project is known as Aadhaar and is being implemented by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which was established in 2009.  The goal of the project is to enroll all Indians and to assign a unique number (the Aadhaar number) to each person and to associate a variety of information, including biometrics, with that unique number for authentication purposes.

The unique identity thus established will be used to access various government benefits such as pensions and assistance for the poor.  Currently the use of the Aadhaar number is moving into the private sector as well.

As a result of this enormous biometrics activity in India we decided to establish a greater presence there and to establish SecuGen India.   Because of our long history in India this was an easy decision to make.

fB: What can we expect to see from SecuGen in the near future?

SG: We will continue to strive to produce products that are high quality and yet affordable for mass deployment.  You can expect to see us producing a variety of hardware products targeted at mobile applications and targeted at integration into a wide range of OEM devices, from access control machines to ATMS, to door locks.

You can expect us to continue making our NIST MINEX compliant algorithms available on the platforms that biometrics vendors require.

I don’t want to pre-announce any products but be assured that we are in the process of developing new hardware and software products.  You will see some exciting new developments in the near future.