Using Your Fingerprints to Lock Your Smart Device May Not be So Smart

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As we’ve recently written, smartphones, laptops and many other of our latest and most advanced devices can ostensibly be secured with a fingerprint. Biometric technology, as it’s called, is considered foolproof since fingerprints can’t be duplicated. Right?

Wrong.

“If your smartphone is stolen and someone wants your fingerprint, they just look at the smart phone because your fingerprints are all over it,” says Joseph Steinberg, CEO of Secure My Social. In an interview with WFMY News, Steinberg said, “Fingerprints sound like they’re good for authentication because as children we’re told everyone has a unique fingerprint, and you can’t copy it to somebody else.  The reality is you leave your fingerprints all over the place every day so, if someone wants them, they can get them.”

Consider also that a biometric database merely takes a picture of your fingerprint and compares it to the one in its database. It doesn’t care if the fingerprint its reading is a fleshy digit slid across its sensor or a high-res photo.

Ever pose for a close-up photo while flashing the peace sign or giving a thumbs-up? Your fingerprints may be clearly visible from up to nine feet away. If you use your prints to unlock device, you’re sharing your unique identity with the entire world.

A secure passcode may be far better as you can change your code if your phone is stolen. No matter what you may have seen in Face Off, permanently changing your fingerprint isn’t easy.

But you can change them temporarily.

In fact, a person named Mian Wei, an industrial design student at Rhode Island School of Design, developed a product called Identity that lets you cover your real fingerprints with fake ones. The artificial “print” looks much like a bandage and is made from a mixture of conductive silicone. It contains a random bunch of fibers, which serve the same function as the tiny ridges that sensors scan on a real fingerprint. And since the fibers are random, each is unique and therefore virtually impossible to recognize as a fingerprint or duplicate.

Wrap an Identity strip around your index finger and you could assign the false fingerprint to unlock a phone or laptop as you would using your real finger. The purpose, says the creator, is to protect your identity since you could “lose” your fingerprint to a bad guy with a scanner and a clear photo of your fingers.

As we noted in our blog “Fingerprints – A Touchy Subject,” fingerprints, while unique, should not be the sole means of determining a person’s identity. They also should not be depended upon to protect the valuable data you keep on your smart device.

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Lewis Lustman

Lewis Lustman is a content marketer who enjoys developing materials that engage, inform, challenge, and hopefully entertain my audience. Lewis is a former journalist for Los Angeles Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and has worked for a number of leading advertising, marketing, technology, and PR firms over the years. Interested in a topic that he hasn't yet tackled? Drop him a line in the comments section!

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