Hackers can steal fingerprints from photos

A group of Japanese researchers succeeded, and it turned out to be an easier feat than expected if the images are high-resolution

Taking very high-resolution photos is now within everyone's reach. There are smartphones on the market that rival digital cameras in megapixels. And the images are increasingly rich in detail. And it is precisely this abundance of detail that brings a new risk: the theft of fingerprints.

Maybe we Westerners have not realized this potential danger as a matter of culture: it is rare that we photograph people with their hands in full view. In Japan, it's different. For the inhabitants of the Rising Sun it is normal to pose with open fingers as a sign of victory, which, for them, represents almost the equivalent of a smile here in our country. It is therefore no coincidence that the idea of a possible theft of fingerprints from photos taken at high resolution came from a group of Japanese researchers. So they tried and, unfortunately, they succeeded!

Security problem

I wonder if the Japanese researchers of the National Institute of Informatics, when they succeeded in extracting fingerprints from a high-resolution photo, then rejoiced with their fingers in victory. They had just discovered an unfortunately viable and very simple way for a theft of something unique that, in many cases, is the basis of security systems. How many smartphones now are equipped with fingerprint sensors to access their personal data? Biometric security systems that take advantage of the unique shape of our fingertips are becoming increasingly popular, and knowing that anyone can get hold of them from a photo of us is quite alarming.

Beware of high-resolution photos

It's true that the researchers themselves are throwing water on the fire when they say that it's only possible to extract fingerprints from high-resolution photos, with fingers well lit, still and in close-up, with excellent exposure and focus, but it's still possible for all these eventualities to happen in one image. Once the possible "flaw" has been discovered, as they say in the computer sector, one can always take action to "plug" it. And so Japanese researchers have invented a transparent film made of titanium oxide to be applied to fingers to hide fingerprints, but that does not prevent them from being used when they are needed to be recognized by a biometric system. As well as advising, in the meantime, to keep our fingertips out of the frame when someone takes our picture.