A Hacker Says He Can Recreate Fingerprints From Photographs

A speaker at a yearly hacking conference in Germany has claimed the ability to recreate someone’s fingerprints using just photographs of their fingers, as reported by the BBC.

This capability would highlight the compromised nature of replacing passwords with fingerprints, which is already seen by experts as far from fully secure.

In his talk at the Chaos Computer Club — Europe’s largest hacker organisation — Jan Krissler said he used a high-profile target for his attempt: German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Krissler, also known by the pseudonym “Starbug,” used several close-range photos from a “standard photo camera” of von der Leyen’s hand from a few angles before creating an image of her thumbprint via VeriFinger, a software program used to read fingerprints.

Ursula von der Leyen Afghanistan Germany Defence MinisterJohn MacDougall/ReutersGerman Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen looks through a measuring device during a tour of Camp Shaheen in Afghanistan, on Dec. 13, 2014.

Krissler has poked holes in biometric security before, with demonstrations of facial recognition technology fooled by a subject’s photograph, and even by highlighting the possibility of reading PIN codes from the reflections in a phone user’s eyes.

Brian Roemelle, a blogger who often writes about Apple’s Touch ID, applauds any hacker’s demonstrations of safety failures. “They bring attention to a lot of thing that move our society forward when it comes to security,” he told Business Insider.

But he also thinks it’s unreasonable to fear that fingerprint safety will be made obsolete (or that, as Krissler suggests, politicians might start covering up with gloves) simply because there are lots of photos of high-profile individuals floating around the Internet. “I think it’s more practical for me to get a fingerprint off the glass of some celebrity or some famous person,” he said.

More importantly, Roemelle thinks biometric technology will keep evolving as hacking opportunities arise.

“Technology will move forward as these hacks become more prevalent,” whether in the form of further refinements to fingerprint ID technology or to biometric solutions keyed to other parts of the human body, like one’s heartbeat.

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