Only a few years ago biometric identification systems were considered spy-level pieces of
technology, yet now they are used more and more frequently throughout everyday life. The
most prominent form of biometric technology available to the general public is that of
fingerprint scanners. From unlocking your phone to signing in to your local gym, fingerprint scanner technology has become common place in modern society.
Main Methods for Fingerprint Scanning
There are three methods in particular that have been utilised for fingerprint scanning technologies;
One of the more outdated methods used in fingerprint capturing technology is Optical Scanners. This technology works by analysing light and dark areas of a captured image in order to detect the unique whorl and ridge patterns of the fingerprint. As this method only captures a 2D image of the fingerprint, it is possible to fool the scanner system with prosthetics or pictures.
Capacitive scanners are the most common type of fingerprint scanner used today, found in numerous smart phones models. As the name suggests, capacitive scanners use capacitor circuits that uses a charge to track minute details of a fingerprint. This technology is far more difficult to fool than the previous optical scanner. The latest in fingerprint technology are the Ultrasonic Scanners. To capture an image of a fingerprint, an ultrasonic pulse is transmitted from the scanner to the finger. Based on the
unique shape of pores and ridges, some of this pulse is absorbed by the finger while some is bounced back to the scanner. This method creates a surface map of the fingerprint which is used to generate a 3-dimensional image.
One of the most secure forms of access?
Biometric authentication systems are designed to be one of the most secure forms of access to a particular item or location. This is because, in theory, an individual’s unique features (such as a fingerprint) cannot be replicated by anyone else.
However, it should not come as a surprise that the type of fingerprint scanners used in
mobile technologies do not replicate the level of accuracy obtained by more sophisticated biometric systems. One of the reasons for this is due to the small sensing area used to capture the image of the fingerprint. A study titled ‘Small fingerprint scanners used in mobile devices: the impact on biometric performance’ examined the effect of the size of scanning sensors on its biometric
performance. The results concluded that as the sensing area decreases in size, the quality of the fingerprint also decreased which then increased the error rates of the scanner system. Further research carried out by New York University and Michigan State University found that it was possible to trick mobile photo fingerprint scanners by creating a set of master prints which had been created based on examples of patterns found in real prints. Researchers found that these master prints had a 65% success rate when it came to fooling the scanner. Despite this, for the average person the risk of biometric security threats is considerably low
compared to world leading organisations who would have to take greater security precautions. While fingerprint scanner app technologies may not be 100% fool, it is fair to assume that these technologies work on a level that allows access by the designated user, however the risk is that these systems are not advanced enough to stop potential breaches in security.
If you are interested in learning more about fingerprint detection, click here to discover how EVISCAN contactless latent fingerprint detection works.
Cappelli, R., Ferrara, M. and Maltoni, D. (2006). The Quality of Fingerprint Scanners and Its Impact on the Accuracy of Fingerprint Recognition Algorithms. Multimedia Content Representation, Classification and Security, pp.10-16.
Android Authority. (2018). How fingerprint scanners work: optical, capacitive, and ultrasonic variants explained. [online] Available at: https://www.androidauthority.com/how-fingerprint-scanners-work-670934/
Fernandez-Saavedra, B., Liu-Jimenez, J., Ros-Gomez, R. and Sanchez-Reillo, R. (2016). Small fingerprint scanners used in mobile devices: the impact on biometric performance. IET Biometrics, 5(1), pp.28-36.
Titcomb, J. (2018). Why your smartphone’s fingerprint scanner isn’t as secure as you might think. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/04/11/smartphone-fingerprint-scanners-could-easily-fooled-fake-prints
Witten, B. (2018). Biometric Authentication: Security Benefits and Concerns. [online] Health IS Technology Blog. Available at: https://health.usf.edu/is/blog/2018/06/04/biometric-authentication-security-benefits-and-concerns