January 7, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

I blogged recently about biometric systems at Japan’s airports and the issues I have with it. On entering Japan, immigration officials ask you to plonk the index fingers of both hands onto a fingerprint scanner, which scans your fingerprints and instantly cross-checks them with an international database of fugitives, terrorists and foreigners with deportation records. Well, I’ve said before that fingerprinting systems can be fooled and it seems poor old Japan’s $AU 64 million screening system can be well and truly fooled – by a piece of tape!

A South Korean woman was turned away by immigration authorities in 2008 because of a deportation order after illegally staying in Japan. Because of her record, she was not allowed to enter Japan again for 5 years. But she decided to have another crack at it. And here’s something the Japanese dudes need to think about because apparently a South Korean broker supplied her with a fake passport and special tapes she used to cover her fingerprints.

Seems the special fingerprint altering tape had someone else’s fingerprints and the woman simply held the tape over her own index fingers and tricked the system. Now, I don’t think you need to be Einstein here – if you can fool a sophisticated, multi-million dollar biometric system so easily – with tape stuck onto your own fingers – IMHO this calls into serious question biometrics and their reliability. And Japan, if there are South Korean brokers like this, just think of how many people might have slipped by your fancy system! Japanese authorities will now review the current immigration screening system (smart idea).

I always go back to the movie, Minority Report. Remember when the Tom Cruise character, John Anderton, had an eyeball replacement? I could barely watch that scene: dodgy doctors, unsanitary conditions and so on. But I thought then, yep, this is the future – a black market geared towards evading so-called sophisticated biometric systems. I imagined a Dystopian future filled with unsavoury criminals cutting off people’s fingers so they could steal fingerprints or kidnapping people to steal eyeballs. But who would have imagined it could be so simple to fool a biometric guardian – using tape!

I thought I might help out Japanese immigration as they review their biometric system by doing some research on how exactly you could fool a fingerprint identification system. So Japanese dudes, you might wish to watch this short but informative video. Or you could read these helpful step-by-step instructions on using gelatine and water to fake fingerprints.

Even better, they could contact a Japanese cryptographer, Tsutomu Matsumoto, who wrote a scholarly article on the use of artificial fingers (or gummy fingers made from Gummi Bears, which consist of gelatine) and how there was a high rate of acceptance by fingerprint scanners of the fake prints. And a really good collection of articles and links on faking fingerprints and fooling scanners is here. Apparently even good old Play-Doh can foil a fingerprint scanning system. Really, if society is being asked to accept more intrusive security in the name of the War on Terror or whatever other flimsy excuse, you would like to think that the security measure being used is robust.

One would hope that Japanese authorities did some of this basic research before throwing $64 million at a system that can be duped by a Gummi Bear. We have Jelly Babies here in Australia – wonder what I could do with them?!

Image source: Wikipedia

Entry filed under: Airport security, Biometric identification, Surveillance society, Useful resources. Tags: , .

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