We’re proud to say our mission to be at the forefront of the next generation sensor security has caught media’s attention. Next’s CEO Peter Heuman recently sat down with industry magazine Security Journal Americas for an in-depth business and biometrics update. Did you miss it? No worries, we’ve got you covered – enjoy the full story in today’s insight.

 

With its FBI-approved sensors shipped worldwide, successful integration into India’s Aadhaar program and unique Active Thermal Technology™ – Norwegian biometrics company Next Biometrics has caught our attention. Currently at the forefront of the development of the next generation sensor security, Security Journal Americas sat down with Next CEO Peter Heuman to further get to know the Nordic innovator.

Norwegian, IKEA, Novo Nordisk – the Nordic countries are well-known for their strong, entrepreneurial drive and business-friendly cultures, which have fostered many renowned and successful companies around the globe. And now there is another innovator you ought to remember: Norwegian biometrics company Next Biometrics (Next).

Founded in 2000, Next is on a mission to bring the world the next generation sensor security.

Ever since Apple launched its touch ID back in 2013, fingerprint sensors have become an essential integration in our mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. Consumers and end-users tend to love the simplicity and usability fingerprint sensors have brought us. Security? Integrity? The average end-user may not necessarily stop to consider such aspects enough. As the overall threat landscape increase, it further emphasizes the need for today’s product developers to act and take on such a responsibility.

Understanding the importance of ensuring both integrity and enhanced security in product integrations is not only important – it is business-critical.

Spoof-proofing the Future

Today, there are several different fingerprint technologies in use. Optical scanning, i.e., optical sensors, is the oldest method of capturing and comparing fingerprints. However, this technology only captures a 2D picture and hacking experiments have shown they can unfortunately also easily be spoofed. Thus, product developers aiming to spoof-proofing their portfolios may want to explore other options. Optical sensors will not always be secure enough to trust with your most sensitive data, Mr. Heuman explains.

The majority of fingerprint sensors integrated into smartphones today consist of capacitive sensors. Although this sensor technology is much rougher to spoof than optical sensors, it is still doable. Heuman adds the image performance of capacitive sensors can be sensitive to rapidly changing human factors such as moisture and sweat, making them unsuitable for the most demanding authentication and verification areas.

He ought to know.

Currently, Mr. Heuman and his colleagues at Next are busy helping several customers switch from optical fingerprint sensor solutions to their patented Active Thermal technology instead. As the number of threats facing login and authentication solutions steadily increase, organizations ought to take preventive action in order to secure both its own and its customers’ sensitive data. And as of today, active thermal fingerprint technology is one of the best ways to do that.

“Organizations ought to take preventive action in order to secure both their own and their customers’ sensitive data.”

So how does it work? Thermal fingerprint scanners act in a similar fashion as the capacitive fingerprint reader. However, instead of measuring an electric flow as the capacitive readers do, thermal fingerprint readers measure temperature variations. In short, this means that the warmth of your finger transfers to the sensor, where the ridges of the print create more heat than the valleys – which in turn allows for the creation of an image for analysis. The Active Thermal sensor then uses this unique imprint to determine who the user is. So far, there are no known, successful attempts to spoof active thermal fingerprint sensors, which makes this unique technology much sought after.

“Several of our customers are looking to upgrade their products to the next level of sensor security. We’re delighted our technology helps them achieve this. Our preferred ways of working are agile and always in very close collaboration with the customer’s own team”, says Mr. Heuman.

He also stresses the importance of understanding different sensor technologies have different ideal application areas; adding that optical sensors have of course historically done an important job as they’ve paved way for the technical development we now see.

The tale of Transformation

Speaking of development: helping its customer switch into more secure sensor solutions is not only part of the customers’ transformation of product offerings. It is also a tale of Next’s very own transformation of its operations, initiated by Heuman. Stepping in as CEO for Next in September 2019, it is no understatement to say the biometrics company has undergone radical changes during the past few years.

Then: a once promising startup. However, somewhere along the journey it had clearly lost its way.

As Heuman entered into his new role he quickly learned operating expenses had been out of control. On top of that, due to the lack of focus and business strategy – Next had only one paying customer, but lots of roles to feed. It was an organization in need of structure, a different leadership and clear targets. A reset was inevitable.

Now?

“We have come a long way since I started as CEO, in terms of reconfiguring Next to make it a successful company”, notes Heuman.

Changing into a more customer-centric company has been a key aspect to reduce dependency of specific customers, and thus overall risk levels. (The company now has 40 customers). Actively driving revenues through a clearly communicated growth strategy and executed cost-control have also been essential components in Next’s journey through a few challenging years, including both a pandemic and global semiconductor shortages.

Heuman says the improved cost levels were its first result. Implementing “product and marketing improvements” are other important initiatives which have contributed to a stronger position. Today, Next is a different company. Headquartered in Oslo, Norway and listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange it employs 40 employees in Europe, US, India and Greater China.

 

Why Size Matters

Two of its strongest branches are public security and access control. Largely thanks to its FBI certified FAP20 sensor, which has undergone rigorous tests to pass the strict security requirements for the certification. Governments todays explore different biometric solutions to manage its citizens and increase their levels of digitization of societal services. Authentication, identification, and verification of people are just a few of the multiple use cases for fingerprint authentication.

And here: size certainly matters.

“We are fully committed to supporting the growth of fingerprint biometric technology for personal identification and authentication.”

Larger fingerprint sensors, such as the FAP20 which measures 12×17 mm, are not only able to identify more unique parts of your fingerprint – the enrollment process is also much faster and secure. Heuman highlights that smaller sensors decrease the level of security and reliability. “Stitching”, i.e., enrolling your fingerprint up to 15-20 times before a fully approved match is registered, may slightly improve security for such sensors. A larger senor can still accomplish the same with just one enrollment.

High security fingerprint sensors such as Next’s FAP20 can prevent crimes and fraud in voting systems and secure accurate social and pensions disbursements. They also provide benefits for applications at national border controls and enable law enforcement to instantly secure the biometric identity using different portable devices.

“We are fully committed to supporting the growth of fingerprint biometric technology for personal identification and authentication. We’re already bringing our secure fingerprint solutions cost-effectively to government and institution all over the world”, says Mr. Heuman.

Due to non-disclosure agreements no customer names can be mentioned, but Mr. Heuman confirms several tier 1 OEMs are among its customers. Next also has a strong track record of its proven ability to deliver on its promises with over 10 million sensors shipped so far. One of the “crown jewels” in the company’s publicly known success is its integration into India’s national biometrics program, Aadhaar. Indeed, an important proof point for the company’s technology.

What about competition then? How much of a threat would it pose to Next if manufacturers of capacitive sensors decided to start making them larger? The contributing factors to Next’s success not only lie in its unique technology, but also in the cost-efficiency of the manufacturing of its products. Next is able to provide its customer with products that are both secure and cost-efficient.

“Large capacitive sensors would also require large areas of monocrystalline silicone, which would make them expensive”, says Heuman,

explaining how Next has solved this challenge by developing their very own Active Thermal technology. It makes its sensors using low temperature polysilicon thin film transistor, LOTS TFT, a technology used in display manufacturing.

“Thanks to this technology, we are able to produce several hundred of our sensors from just one TFT glass. Our Active Thermal Technology makes a costly technology affordable and thus, available for our customers”.

Executing the Growth Strategy

Despite what most of us would call a somewhat shaky beginning of 2023, Heuman is confident in Next’s ability to deliver on its goals (1 design win per month). The company keeps on executing its strategy at a steady pace.

And as per March it has already announced a new partnership, aiming to speed up its efforts in China. It has also released news on receiving a minimum recurring delivery request from an India based OEM, corresponding to more than USD 1 million in revenues during 2023. As China and India are the two largest biometric markets in the world, it is also a strong signal that Next is indeed a player to rely on.
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Peter Heuman, CEO

 

 

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