By Mark Ballard
18th October 2006
The public fears losing their fingers to ruthless biometric ID thieves
in the fingerprint-controlled future, apparently. Or at least, so says
Frost & Sullivan analyst Sapna Capoor, who argued unconvincingly that "A
dead finger is no good to a thief."
If you have a fingerprint scanner protecting your family jewels, your
data might be safe, but what about your fingers?
So, it's all getting out of hand? Then on the other... there are
recorded instances of people having their fingers chopped off, and the
biometric industry takes the issue seriously.
For example, there were the Malaysian crooks who nabbed a man's fingers
in order to operate the biometric security on the S-class Mercedes they
stole from him.
Nevertheless, biometric firms are doing what they can to detect whether
a fingerprint being scanned is alive or not, said Jean Francois
Mainguet, chief scientist of fingerchip biometrics at Atmel-France, and
inventor of the sweeping technique for direct silicon fingerprint
scanning (he was awarded his patent on 9/11, as it happens).
Speaking at Biometrics 2006 in London, Mainguet said it wasn't yet
possible to detect "liveliness", and even when it was, this would
guarantee security no more than a regular biometric.
"Absolute security doesn't exist," he said. If you could detect
liveliness, you wouldn't be able to tell if someone was accessing some
system or authorising some payment under duress or not.
Security causes an escalation of causes and reactions just like the arms
race. Want to cheat the banking system? Forge an ID. Fingerprint scanner
making it tricky? Chop someone's finger off. Live fingerprint scanner?
Hold someone's family at gun point.
The techniques being explored for live scanners include inducing
involuntary responses via an electric charge to cause a spasm in skin
pressed against the glass. Or there's the use of light fluctuations to
induce involuntary responses from the user of an iris scanner.
They can all be faked, said Mainguet. The electrical response, for
example is as easy as making a frog's leg twitch if you have chopped
There is a solution, he said, which is to use a variety of biometrics to
identify someone. Biometrics? You just can't get enough of them. At some
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