In the News

With the Proliferation of Biometric Scanning, Some Hidden Risks

Apr 02, 2019

In today’s digital world, few words are as dreaded as “hacked.” What started in the 1960s and 70s as an often-mischievous attempt by young coders to outwit the cutting-edge technology of their time has become an urgent matter of personal and national security as more and more data is stored on our devices.

Researchers have found a way to simulate fingerprints and fool scanners as much as 20 percent of the time.

Cybersecurity experts have tried to curtail data theft in recent years through biometric scanning, in which an individual’s face, iris, or fingerprint are used as a key to access personal data. Commercial biometric technology was popularized in 2013, when Apple included a fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S, and since then technology companies like Google, Samsung, and Huawei have followed suit, rolling out devices with facial recognition as well.

And yet, even these advances have become vulnerable to sophisticated hacking techniques. A team of researchers at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, for instance, created an algorithm to not only simulate a person’s fingerprint but to create a single print that can masquerade as several others and fool scanners as often as 20 percent of the time — all without replicating an actual print.

So much for the peace of mind that biometric scanning once promised. Indeed, as biometric security technology increasingly saturates our digital lives, a growing number of experts are expressing concern that the consequences of a security failure — a practical inevitability, they say — are only getting higher. “You can always replace your credit card, but you can never replace your fingerprint or iris,” says Kon Leong, CEO and co-founder of the data archiving company ZL Technologies, “This means that any breach would require an overhaul of the entire infrastructure. Furthermore, it is not a matter of if there will be a breach. It is a matter of when.”

And as the tug-of-war between hackers and security experts escalates, the implications for individual consumers and citizens — who are drafted into each new iteration of these technologies at airports, borders, and banks, and on their smartphones, tablets, and computers — become increasingly complex.

Please visit Undark to read the full article.

Download the PDF