How To Activate Dell Fingerprint Reader

Change continues at a feverish pace in the smart device market, with fast connections, long battery life, and biometric security. Many have experienced the benefits of all day battery life and Touch ID biometric logons with their Apple iPhones.

Meanwhile, my newish Dell laptop is limited to less than 1.5 hours of battery life without attaching a cord and hardware interfaces that don’t come from the factory fully activated.

Take the fingerprint reader, for example. It comes standard on various Dell laptop models, but Windows (10, in this case) doesn’t even ship with drivers to enable the user to leverage this fingerprint reader to authenticate via a finger swipe. C’mon man! In other words, in its default state, the fingerprint reader doesn’t do anything till you “activate” it.

The good news is that Dell has easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions on how to enable the fingerprint reader to make the process of logging into Windows, desktop, and web applications a breeze. Sorry, just kidding. Dell has some cryptic instructions that a person with average technical know-how would have a difficult time navigating. 

Dell does have some decent online sources, but you need to be willing to invest the time trying to figure out what might work. Hence, our goal is to provide step-by-step instructions for how to get your Dell fingerprint reader working.

First, my configuration: Dell Latitude E6440 64-bit laptop with Windows 10 (also 64-bit), 1TB hard disk, 16GB RAM. Nothing too out of the ordinary.

And here’s what you get when you leverage the fingerprint swipe capability that comes with your laptop – an extremely convenient logon experience. When all is said and done (what we’re going to cover in this blog post), all you have to do is swipe your finger across the reader and you will automatically be logged onto your computer.

If you compare the time it takes to perform a manual login by typing that increasingly complicated and lengthy password to the time it takes to swipe a finger, you’ll be more than willing to spend a little time upfront configuring your computer to leverage this feature.

Another benefit is the added layer of protection with biometric (fingerprint, retina, etc.) security, enabling you to have a complicated password that you rarely need to use because you’ve modernized the way you login with a finger swipe. Good on ya, mate!

Dell provides a reasonable quantity of online resources for customers to help themselves. So the first step in the process is to go to Dell.com and click on the Support link. You’ll be asked to identify your product via a search, Service Tag number, or by downloading and installing an app onto your local machine that can identify your exact laptop model.

I went ahead and downloaded, installed, and ran the Dell discovery app. It automatically found the relevant information, which then populated the Dell web application.

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Knowing laptop model# and Service Tag# is necessary before continuing the process.

The tricky part about enabling almost any technology is that steps have to be processed in a particular chronological order for it to work properly. The fingerprint reader is no exception. In fact, Dell’s lists necessary components in an order that’s inconsistent with the required install order.

Once you have the model# and service tag information, it’s really just a 3-step process to enable the reader: Install Dell Data Protection (DDP) Security Tools, install Dell Data Protection Encryption, and finally install the ControlVault driver.

First, download and install DDP Security Tools. Restart. Next, download and install DDP Encryption. Restart.

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Install these two components opposite of the order in which they’re listed.

The final install component is the Dell ControlVault driver for the fingerprint reader. It’s available from the same general location as the Dell Data Protection files previously downloaded and installed.

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Clicking on the “View details” link confirms this applies to the fingerprint reader.

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You’ll need to set up an administrative password for accessing the Dell Security Tools  utility. Be sure to save this in a safe place, like a post-it note stuck to your monitor… No, please don’t do this! That’s the old-school method. Many new and improved ways exist to manage credentials.

The whole purpose here is to increase our security, not create another breach point. Use a free or paid password manager like 1Password, LastPass, or KeePass to store the growing number of credentials for the plethora of mobile and web apps you leverage on a daily basis.

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To start using the fingerprint reader, you need to “enroll” fingerprints

When all is said and done (all components installed and working), you should have five separate entries populating the Windows Programs & Features utility.

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Windows utility Programs & Features looks like this when all component have been installed

Use the utility to “enroll” fingerprints so that you can login to your device with just a finger swipe. You should be completely set up and ready to go now. Time to test how it works.

Although visual artifacts seem to indicate that you need to be at a specific point on the logon screen before you can use a fingerprint to login, you can login from the home screen with a swipe without first clicking on the fingerprint swipe option.

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It’s unnecessary to click on the fingerprint login icon before swiping a finger to authenticate

Fingerprint reading and biometric authentication technology in general are still only moderately reliable. That is, the reader may not always recognize your fingerprint swipe and you’ll want to have access to your userid/password login credentials.

Similar to many programs, Dell Data Protection adds a desktop shortcut for quick access during the install process. I also like to pin important applications to my Windows task bar.

Like the computer keyboard and mouse, someday biometric authentication will be built into all pertinent devices we use and the necessary drivers and software will run and work without manual intervention. Until then, let’s continue to document the steps necessary to get features like the fingerprint reader to work so that we can save time and also improve security of our devices and data.