Your Fingerprint and Identity Could Be Stolen Through Your Photos 

Is a picture an open window to your online security ?

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Sensitive information can be accrued through the use of his/her photo. (Photo: iStock)
Your Fingerprint and Identity Could Be Stolen Through Your Photos 

Just when people thought that biometric technology is an impregnable solution to protect their sensitive data, here comes a revelation that might come as a shock. Today, innovators strive to fuse biometric security systems into innovations as a means of providing access to their systems.

Fingerprints are fast becoming our trusted mode of access to our phones and laptops. Considering the fact that every technology has its downside, how secure and foolproof are these biometric systems, especially your fingerprint access?

Much to the consternation of the tech companies, researchers are questioning the reliability of the biometric technology for quite some time now, and have even found some disturbing proof on how susceptible the biometrics can turn out to be. Going by some recent reports, it is not hard to surmise that the deeper they go into it, the more alarming it gets.

Fingerprint scanner at the back. (Photo: Aaqib Raza Khan/<b>The Quint</b>)
Fingerprint scanner at the back. (Photo: Aaqib Raza Khan/The Quint)

What’s scary is the fact that how easy it has become to steal one’s identity – without having to make any physical contact with the subject!

Biometric: Foolproof or Far From It?

Jan Krissler is no stranger to the hacker community. Going by the code name ‘Starbug’, Krissler demonstrated a few hacking methods. You’d be surprised how easy it was to fool biometric technology, including fingerprints and iris scans.

In 2014, to prove how easily the biometrics could be cheated, he used high-resolution pictures of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s fingers, taken from different angles at a press conference, and recreated her fingerprint.

In simple words, he had cloned a person’s identity by simply using her photograph.

The biometric finger scanner’s mechanism is simpler than you assume. It simply takes the picture of the fingerprint and compares it with the one stored in the database. It doesn’t matter where it comes from – a high resolution picture or your finger itself. If it matches, voila! You’re in.

Though there are other forms of biometric technology such as thermal or ultrasonic, which can be a bit difficult to break into, nevertheless, they are not completely foolproof.

And If you think that copying fingerprints needs a king-sized technical knowledge, you’d be again surprised. Jan Krissler used VeriFinger, a widely available commercial software to reproduce fingerprints, which then can be used to gain access or to steal a person’s personal information.

Krissler advices that the fingerprint access method of protection should not be taken for granted; instead one should use them as a secondary option after passwords. Passwords are much more reliable. They are stored in our heads, and we can change them anytime we want, but what if your fingerprint is compromised, can it be changed? He opines.

It looks like Krissler’s points are soundly valid and holds good. A recent report by a team at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics (NII) states that people who pose for ‘peace’ sign are at greater risk of having their fingerprints stolen. Taking advantage of the high-resolution cameras that phones offer these days, the researchers at NII were able to replicate fingerprints using pictures that were clicked just nine feet away from the subject!

As a countermeasure, the researchers at NII are developing a special transparent film containing titanium oxide, which can be applied to fingers before you pose for the cameras. Though this seems to be a workable solution, it’s still in an inchoate stage.

The problem is that biometric technology was designed to identify offenders. The biometric verification relies on the unique features of our physical attributes like fingerprints, retina and iris patterns, voice waves and so on.

Today, these have slowly entered the mainstream, into the lives of the general public, and are rapidly becoming an integral part of the security verification system in our daily lives. Keeping the skeptics aside, even the hardcore biometric experts agree that biometrics aren’t perfect, and they can’t be (not yet) an infallible alternative to passwords and PIN numbers.

Is Technology an Enemy in Friend's Guise?

If man created technology – a concept – then that concept cannot remain beyond the normal powers of our understanding. All one has to do is understand the core. If you need to unlock something, all you need to know is how it is locked. As simple as that. And biometric technology is no different.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who love to challenge and take advantage of this understanding to fulfil their sinister motives. If researchers are to be believed on the flaws of the biometric technology on our phones, laptops and other devices, how come the makers oversaw this?

Were they genuinely unaware of these flaws? Or are they just simply ignoring it? Whether these defects are an outcome of sheer oversight or a deliberate attempt to downplay, it still remains a mystery.

In one way we are our own enemy. Why? It’s simply on account of our total ignorance towards the effrontery of huckstering technology companies. The bottom line, what appears to be, is that modern technology companies are more interested in offering us solutions that are convenient and easy to use (thus making us lazier at every turn) rather than serve the real purpose.

So, the next time we pose with a peace sign or a thumbs sign, or maybe by looking at the camera lens, we might be in danger of inadvertently sharing our identity to the world.

Top technology conglomerates project themselves as an infallible and perfect solution provider aimed to make peoples lives easier. However, it goes without saying that the more dependent we get on technology, the more it jeopardizes our society, opening the doors to a looming danger that threatens our very existence.

Are we trying to prove, time and again, that technology is like a sword with blades on both sides?

(The author is a freelance writer who has a penchant for fiction. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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