Locks can be picked. Chains can be broken. Passwords can be guessed or stolen. That is why more people are turning to biometric solutions to keep their data secure.
Some notebooks already have built-in fingerprint readers, so only the authorised user can access the data. Other computer users can take advantage of relatively inexpensive fingerprint readers which can be plugged into a USB port.
Security vendors are scrambling to create biometric pads for mobile phones, which can be packed with sensitive data.
Simon de Boer, business development manager at NEC New Zealand, says the Japanese electronic giant has been in the biometric business for more than 30 years through its Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), the system used by the New Zealand Police and more than half of the other police forces around the world.
Advances in processing power mean that technology in a stripped-down form can now be used for mobile devices, corporate networks and even as an authenticator for e-commerce transactions.
He says the company has technology for scanning the iris, which has a unique pattern for every person, and for facial recognition.
That has two obvious security applications - access control and identification of faces in crowds.
"It is now being used in some areas for law enforcement. A police officer takes a photo of a suspect on street, sends it back to a database and gets a match. That solves the problem of false names, and is a practical front line exercise of the technology," de Boer says.
For access control, biometrics takes away the problem of having to carry keys or magnetic swipe cards around.
When you front up to the door, if your face, fingerprint or even iris doesn't match, you don't get in.
It sounds like James Bond stuff, but it is available now.
De Boer says door access and access to computers and computer networks may be what drives adoption of biometrics, as costs become competitive with other technologies.
"As always, it will come down to whether you can make a business case for it. Is there an application or a security issue to justify the expense?" he says.
Logging on to computer systems may be that application, particularly for complex systems where people may have to enter a large number of password controlled environments.
There is also e-commerce security - if during the transaction a request is made for biometric verification, such as through a quick fingerprint scan, people might feel more confident about doing large transactions online.
In the health environment, it could be used to ensure only authorised staff have access to sensitive areas of the hospital and as a final check that the patient being put under the knife is the correct one.
The most high-profile biometrics project in New Zealand is a proposal to put biometric identification in passports.
John Secker, the Customs Service's national manager airports and marine, says the project is still in the design phase.
The biometric will be a digitally encoded reading of facial features, an extension of the photographic portraits most passports already carry.
"The biometric chip in a passport is a security device for the passport itself," Secker says.
"There is then an option for integration into a biometric based system."
People with a biometric passport may eventually be allowed to go through an automated passenger processing system, speeding up their trip.
Secker, who chairs the Australasian Biometric Institute, says the other application of biometrics to border control is matching faces in a crowd against a watchlist of people who may have been deemed a risk to a border security.
"We have done development work in this area but not put it into operation," he says.
Secker says privacy issues are a major factor in developing biometric policy, and the Biometrics Institute has developed a privacy code which is now with the Australian Privacy Commissioner for consideration.
"It would be our recommendation as an institute that any organisation considering implementation of biometrics apply the code, or something similar," Secker says.
"I think public acceptability of the use of biometrics is a lot more positive than may have been reported in recent years, but we still have to treat the protection of biometric information in any system with great care."By Adam Gifford Email Adam