February 23, 2015

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Are Fingerprint Passwords the Perfect Identity Theft Protection?

In information technology, “biometrics” refers to technology that measures body identifiers like DNA, eye retinas, voice patterns and other characteristics that make you unique. Once the stuff of science fiction, biometric security is fast becoming an everyday reality, and fingerprint identification is leading the way.

Thanks in large part to Apple’s Touch ID authentication, used on the company’s iPhones, fingerprint passwords are becoming more common. Juniper Research recently released a report noting that they’re about to get far more popular. It’s estimated that approximately six million people will deploy fingerprint passwords and other biometric controls for their phones in 2015; Juniper predicts that number will jump to 770 million within the next four years.

Such a huge increase is a result of enhanced security, particularly as more people use their phones for online shopping and bank transactions. If you have all your bank information stored in a mobile app and lose your phone, with this level of biometric security, whoever finds your phone will have a very difficult time accessing your data.

But are we all only one fingerprint scan away from being hackproof?

A Cautionary Note

Although biometric security is considered to offer a higher level of protection than simple passwords, a 2013 fingerprint scanner hack demonstrated that hackers are attempting new tactics.

Back then, a group of hackers claimed they were the first to beat Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint security by using a seemingly futuristic method: lifting a fingerprint from a glass, dusting it with graphite and taking a high-res photo used to create a latex “mask” of the print.

More recently, a German hacker “reconstructed” a politician’s fingerprint by using photographs of the person’s thumb, taken from various angles during a press event.

Heading Toward Lockdown

These incidents show it’s theoretically possible to be victim of a fingerprint scanner hack, but the attacker would have to go to extreme lengths to get into your device. Most thieves would simply recognize that the phone is too well-protected and move on to an easier victim.

That’s why many security experts are suggesting that smartphone users consider fingerprint passwords as part of their security mix. In fact, police officers in New York have been handing out flyers recommending that iPhone owners update to iOS 7 as soon as possible, since that mobile operating system has strong fingerprint password controls.

In an article about the German fingerprint scanner hack, Stephen Elliott, director of the International Center for Biometric Research at Purdue University, said that recreating a fingerprint is possible, but certainly not easy. He added that fingerprint sensors have enough countermeasures built in to thwart such an attack.

The bottom line? Stay up to date on potential threats and always employ multiple levels of protection for your mobile devices.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns.

Melanie Medina

Sr. Director of Digital Marketing at IdentityForce
Melanie is a native of Bolivia who has lived in Boston for over 10 years. She likes to make time to travel, jog, read, and play backgammon. Fueled by copious amounts of coffee, Melanie stays on top of her to-do list while also keeping abreast of identity theft issues. Serious data breaches are happening all the time in the U.S. and Melanie loves being part of a solution that brings peace of mind to families across the country.

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