BACKGROUND: "Spoofing" is the process by which individuals test a biometric security system by introducing a fake sample. This can help companies improve those systems in order to better protect their information and employees. The goal is to make the authentication process as accurate and reliable as possible.
HOW IT WORKS: Digits from cadavers and fake fingers molded from plastic, or even play dough or gelatin, can potentially be misread as authentic by biometric security systems. Electrical and computer engineers are addressing this issue by trying to "spoof" such systems in hopes of designing more effective safeguards and countermeasures. One such study found a 90 percent false verification rate; the scanning machines could not distinguish between a live sample and a fake one. The system was modified to detect the pattern of perspiration from a live finger, which reduced the false verification rate to less than 10 percent.
WHAT IS BIOMETRICS: Biometrics is the science of using biological properties such as fingerprints, an iris scan, or voice recognition to identify individuals. These unique "signatures" can be used to authenticate or determine identity. Biometric security systems are growing in popularity, popping up in hospitals, banks, even college residence halls to authorize or deny access to medical files, financial accounts, or restricted areas.
ABOUT FINGERPRINTS: A fingerprint is an imprint made by the pattern of ridges on the pad of a human finger, believed to provide traction for grasping objects. When someone touches something with his fingers, he leaves behind a residue of the touched surface in the pattern of that fingerprint. Brushing the surface with a finely ground powder, like chalk or coal, can make the print visible because the powder adheres to the residue but not the surrounding surface. Invisible prints are called latent prints; there are other chemical techniques to make those visible. There are three basic patterns: the arch, the loop and the whorl. These can be broken down into other classifications. A person's fingerprints are believed to be unique. The practice of comparing fingerprints -- such as those found at a crime scene to those of a suspect -- is called dactyloscopy. The FBI maintains a large database of more than 49 million fingerprint records for known criminals.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.