Researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics (NII) have warned that photos featuring fingertips could pose a security risk, with hackers capable of recreating prints from little more than a peace sign. 

According to the NII’s professor Isao Echizen, consumer camera technology has progressed to the point that photos, taken from up to three metres away, could be used to glean specific biometric information about an individual.

“Just by casually making a peace sign in front of a camera, fingerprints can become widely available,” Echizen told Japanese paper Sankei Shimbun. “Fingerprint data can be recreated if fingerprints are in focus with strong lighting in a picture.”

Echizen and other researchers at the NII were able to recreate fingerprints taken by digital cameras, and have said that advanced technology is not needed to do this.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that the theft of biometric data from photos has been demonstrated. In 2014, hacker Jan “Starbug” Krissler was able to use a high definition photograph to copy German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen’s fingerprints. “After this talk, politicians will presumably wear gloves when talking in public,” he joked at the time.

But if you’re not a high-ranking politician, should you really have cause to worry about hackers copying your fingerprints? Well, yes. Biometrics is a growing area in security – generally seen as more secure than written passwords, and used in everything from smartphones to cars – while the proliferation of photos on social networks means it is relatively easy for a person to hijack your biometric data and sell it on the dark web. There’s also the fact that, unlike written passwords, your fingerprints stick with you for a lifetime.

Echizen and his team are developing a transparent, titanium oxide film, which can be placed over fingertips to prevent prints being stolen, but will still let you unlock devices. It doesn’t sound like the most practical solution, however, and does have a certain cyber-dystopian whiff to it.

Perhaps more likely is that biometric scanners become more sophisticated. Fujitsu’s latest PalmSecure scanners, for example, actually scan the vein patterns under your skin. Try getting THAT from a selfie.



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