Taking an extremely high resolution photo these days is so simple that a toddler can do it – literally. We’re packing more and more detail into photos than ever, and with that detail comes a new security risk: fingerprint theft. Over here in the west, most of us don’t take pictures of our fingers that often. In Japan, however, flashing the victory sign is as common as a smile or a duck face is for us.
That’s why researchers are Japan’s National Institute of Informatics decided to figure out if the rise of biometric security and high-resolution digital photography might introduce a new way to steal our identities. And guess what – they were right.
“Just by casually making a peace sign in front of a camera, fingerprints can become widely available,” said NII researcher Isao Echizen in an interview with Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper. Advanced technology isn’t necessary – any modern digital camera could potentially do this.
That doesn’t mean any print can be stolen from any photo. Conditions have to be right. Speaking to Yomiuri TV, Isao added that “fingerprint data can be recreated if fingerprints are in focus with strong lighting in a picture.” In the NII’s tests, they were able to copy fingerprints using photos taken by a digital camera at about 9 feet away. Even so, cameras are getting better at automatically compensating for poor lighting conditions and motion, and technology like dual lenses are adding multiple levels of focus to photos, all of which make the possibility of this scenario that much greater.
The NNI says it’s developing a transparent film containing titanium oxide that can be attached to fingers to hide their prints while not interfering with their use in identity verification, but it’s difficult to understand the use-case intended for that. In the meantime, you might want to consider keeping your fingerprints out of frame. With all the other stuff smartphone cameras can do, maybe fingerprint blurring is next.