It sounds like a great idea: Forget passwords, and instead lock your phone or computer with your fingerprint. It’s a convenient form of security—though it’s also perhaps not as safe as you’d think.
In their rush to do away with problematic passwords, Apple, Microsoft and other tech companies are nudging consumers to use their own fingerprints, faces and eyes as digital keys. Smartphones and other devices increasingly feature scanners that can verify your identity via these “biometric” signatures in order to unlock a gadget, sign into web accounts and authorize electronic payments.
But there are drawbacks: Hackers could still steal your fingerprint—or its digital representation. Police may have broader legal powers to make you unlock your phone. And so-called “biometric” systems are so convenient they could lull users into a false sense of security.
Enter the latest wrinkle…Could flashing the “peace” sign in photos lead to fingerprint data being stolen?
Research by a team at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics (NII) says so, raising alarm bells over the popular two-fingered pose.
Fingerprint recognition technology is becoming widely available to verify identities, such as when logging on to smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. But the proliferation of mobile devices with high-quality cameras and social media sites where photographs can be easily posted is raising the risk of personal information being leaked, reports said.
The NII researchers were able to copy fingerprints based on photos taken by a digital camera three metres (nine feet) away from the subject. By casually making a peace sign in front of a camera, fingerprints can become widely available. Fingerprint data can be recreated if fingerprints are in focus with strong lighting in a picture.
Advanced technology is not necessary and anyone could easily copy fingerprints. But NII says it has developed a transparent film containing titanium oxide that can be attached to fingers to hide their prints. It is however, not available for another two years.