Friday, May 02, 2008

Security through fingerprint sensors on laptops: think about it...

Kim Cameron got a new laptop a few weeks ago with a fingerprint security sensor on it.

"A couple of days later, I was at a conference and on stage under pretty bright lights. Glancing down at my shiny new computer, I saw what looked unmistakably like a fingerprint on my laptop’s right mouse button. Then it occurred to me that the fingerprint sensor was only a quarter of an inch from what seemed to be a perfect image of my fingerprint. How secure is that?"

Kim got a colleague at the conference to take a photo of the fingerprint to see if it was usable and was shocked to find that it was (see the original post for the excellent photos). Kim says:
"The net of all of this was to drive home, yet again, just how silly it is to use a “public” secret to identify someone. What kind of a lock was this? It was a lock which conveniently offered any thief the key.

At first my mind boggled at the fact that Toshiba would supply mouse buttons that were such excellent fingerprint collection devices. But then I realized that even if the fingerprint weren’t conveniently stored on the mouse button, it would be easy to find it somewhere on the laptop’s surface.

It hit me that in the age of digital photography, a properly motivated photographer could probably find fingerprints on all kinds of surfaces, and capture them as expertly as Dale did. I realized it was no longer necessary to use special powder or inks or tape or whatever. Fingerprints have become a thing of “sousveillance”."

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