POTSDAM A fingerprint, once considered an infallible method of identification, now can be easily faked a problem that leaves researchers scrambling to find methods of detecting these false impressions.
Stephanie Schuckers, recently promoted to full professor of electrical and computer engineering at Clarkson University, believes she has found a method to thwart fingerprint fakers.
People can take materials and make a fake finger and pretend to be someone else, she said. We have a piece of software that determines whether the fingerprint is fake or not.
The technology has spun into a business, called NexID. Ms. Schuckers explained that fingerprint scanners record an image of a persons finger, and fake fingers leave a different pattern; her software knows the difference. It can tell you whether it is a fake or a real finger, she said.
Ms. Schuckers said concern about fakes is increasing as the technology proliferates.
The information about how to fake a device is pretty readily known, she said. There have been cases where people have been caught. A scanner has no way of knowing if youve faked the device. We really dont have a good sense of how often its happened.
Ms. Schuckers has delved into the field of biometrics, an identification method that focuses on biological traits such as fingerprints, the patterns of an iris or tone of voice.
Biometrics is the use of physiologic or behavioral characteristics to recognize someone, oftentimes automatically; that is one advantage of it, she said.
Biometric technology is already in place as people use fingerprints to punch time clocks or access banks.
Often it can be used to give you access to computers, to a bank account, to get across the border. Other countries use it for their benefit systems like Medicare, she said. It is a way of verifying someones identity that makes it easy.
While some people might view biometrics as an incursion into their private lives or their bodies Ms. Schuckers said people also could be liberated from having to memorize numbers and carry cards.
In fact, a lot of that information about you is out there, she said. Where biometrics comes in is maybe it makes things easier for us.
A switch to biometrics might not lead to a more secure world, Ms. Schuckers said, pointing out that fingerprints are already subject to counterfeiting.
There are going to be vulnerabilities involved in biometrics, she said. We need to recognize what those vulnerabilities are and make a decision about what level of security we desire.
Ms. Schuckers also is director of the Center for Identification Technology Research, a federally funded biometric research group based at Clarkson.