Hoping to drive biometric devices into the mainstream, IBM has released a ThinkPad laptop with an integrated fingerprint reader.

Built into the wrist rest of selected ThinkPad T42 models, in a half-inch sensor that users swipe their finger across to allow them to log on. The log on can be used to give access to the system as well as specific applications, websites, and databases. Also included is an updated version of Client Security Software 5.4 that features a secure password manager.

"Some smaller players in the PC market have introduced biometric devices, but I believe we are the first to launch a fingerprint reader with an onboard security chip. That combination can give you the sort of real security improvements that are not possible with either piece alone," said Clain Anderson, IBM's Program Director for security and wireless products.

According to Anderson, the password manager contained in Version 5.4 of the Client Security Software serves like a "password bank", where users can store dozens of passwords and logins for applications and websites that are tied to the fingerprint reader, which is what allows users to go directly to a specific application or site. The software is capable of handling complex pass phrases that can be used interchangeably or in combinations.

"One swipe of the reader supplies you with the hard drive password, the power-on password, and let's you go to the Windows desktop all at once," Anderson said. "I have some 30 or so entries like my bank account, Hotmail account for home, Fidelity retirement account, and my VPN for dialing in from home," he said.

All passwords and logins in the password manager are encrypted with the built-in security chip, Anderson said.

Some analysts said the combination of the reader and embedded security system is a notable advance over existing security technologies for mobile devices and should bring greater awareness among users.

"What is interesting is they have tied the reader into their security sub-system, which gives it much broader applicability. The embedded system not only gives you access to the system but also ties into a broad array of policies," said Leslie, Fiering, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner.

The scanning takes a few seconds, IBM officials said. The fingerprint reader can capture more data than a typical "picture" capture window because it is capable of scanning more of the fingertip's surface area, cutting down on the possibility of misidentification, company officials said.

The biggest threat to security among mobile devices is theft, with estimates among industry analysts ranging anywhere from 700,000 to one million laptops being stolen each year. Frequently the value of the data on the laptop is worth more to a company than the laptop itself.

The T42 will be available in the UK from 19 October and starts at £1,300. A lengthy review with pics can be on found on The Register.