The Nuts and Bolts of Fingerprint Biometric Systems

Fingerprint to prevent identity theft - NikuvBiometric systems are highly advanced automated methods of instantly identifying people, based on behavioral or physiological features. Chief among these is fingerprinting. The simplest definition of a fingerprint is an impression left by the friction ridges of a person’s finger. This is entirely unique to every single person – no two sets of fingerprints in the world are identical, and they do not change – even with age. Identical twins have distinct fingerprints too. In that sense, fingerprints are the preferred method of identifying people with biometric systems, and are commonly used in forensic science at crime scenes. But they are also a useful means of identifying people for ID documents, drivers’ licenses and passports. And now biometrics fingerprinting is widely used in the workplace and at home with PCs, smartphones, external hard drives, safes, etc.

How Are Fingerprints Captured?

In the traditional sense, police and government agencies capture fingerprints by using ink. The imprint created by the friction ridges transfers the fingerprint to paper. These friction ridges are the elevated parts of the epidermis on fingers. In most cases, only the pads of the last joints (tips) of fingers and thumbs are taken. However, it is increasingly common for entire hand prints to be collected nowadays. Digital recording of friction ridges is being adopted throughout the world. There are several ways that fingerprints are collected including: latent prints, patent prints, plastic prints, exemplar prints and electronic prints.

Biometric Fingerprint Scanning

The reason why biometric fingerprint technology is now widely adopted by government, police and the private sector is the accuracy, reliability, and real-time updating/processing capabilities of this method. Fingerprint scanners generate images of a person’s fingers and then determine whether these images match others in the database. A select number of unique features are targeted and these are then saved as mathematical representations or secure biometric keys. It should be pointed out biometric scanners do not save images of fingerprints; they save algorithmic binary code. Fingerprint authentication is used for several purposes including identifying who you are, what security clearance you have, and what information you are privy to.

Why is Biometric Scanning and Authentication so Popular?

In a world rife with identity fraud, one of the safest ways to authenticate a person’s identity is fingerprinting. It is near impossible to guess the correct algorithmic binary code of a person’s fingerprint. Access passes and security cards can be misplaced, but fingerprints are always on your person. And since passwords are easily lost or forgotten, fingerprints provide the ideal means of secure identification. Biometric fingerprinting provides for a high degree of accuracy in reporting, attendance, and identity. The immediacy, accuracy and security of reported information – vis-à-vis biometric fingerprint scanning – are the most convenient characteristics of this technology. The cost-effective element is another big advantage with biometrics systems. Since ID or access cards don’t need to be issued every time employees are added or removed, the savings are substantial. There is also less risk of fraud since the person is always physically present with biometrics, and theft of ID cards is rendered null and void when fingerprints are used.


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Passport Security: An Ongoing Challenge for Governments

People are on the move. The International Civil Aviation Organization reported that over 3.1 billion people traveled by air to various destinations around the world last year. Governments must juggle the tasks of providing a hospitable and efficient travel environment in order to attract tourist dollars while at the same time ensuring the safety of its citizens and borders. This makes efficient yet accurate and safe passport security a high priority for government agencies.

New Security Measures

In response to various security incidents worldwide, including threats and terrorist attacks, such as 9-11, the international travel organization made several recommendations and requirements for more secure passport documents. Biometrics became the new international standard for fraud-proof passports, but the technology has not been universally accepted. The electronic chip seems to be the most palpable and is most popular in use and implementation today. There has been resistance to other biometric identifiers such as retinal scans, facial recognition and fingerprints due to privacy issues and concerns.

family checking in at airline counter

Evolving Technologies Create Challenges to Security Systems

However, as quickly as security experts develop the newest secure systems to protect personal passport information, new technologies arise that give opportunities to counterfeiters, terrorists and other criminals to access and use confidential passport data. An example is the smartphone. Each new version of the smartphone contains higher levels of technologies, such that now the fraud-resistant passport can easily be breached by a properly rigged smartphone, swiftly and without the holder ever knowing. Smartphones enabled with NFC (Near Field Communication) are able to read the data contained on the electronic chip within 30 seconds. The smartphone can quickly snap a photo of the passport when it is opened to present to authorities. US passports contain RFID-proof technologies that block access as long as the passport is closed.

The lightning speed with which technology advances and spreads around the world means that governments must remain vigilant and continually invest resources and efforts towards developing the most stringent and state-of-the-art protection & security technologies possible.