SOURCE: Fraunhofer-Institut für Graphische Datenverarbeitung IGD

Fraunhofer-Institut für Graphische Datenverarbeitung IGD

June 17, 2014 08:00 ET

How Biometrics Wins Against the Password

Biometric Systems Have Advantages and Disadvantages Compared to Passwords. One Fraunhofer Researcher Believes That the Disadvantages Are a Matter of Technology.

DARMSTADT, GERMANY and ROSTOCK, GERMANY and GRAZ, GERMANY--(Marketwired - Jun 17, 2014) - Recently it became known that login details to millions of email accounts were stolen [] . Criminals could have easily gained access to the accounts. Millions of people had to change their passwords. "This would not have been necessary with the right biometric procedures", says Alexander Nouak, head of "Identification and Biometrics" at Fraunhofer IGD and President of the "European Association for Biometrics".

Nouak's team has been working on procedures to protect the reference data stored in biometric systems for several years. In doing so, the Fraunhofer researchers do without saving biometric data as such. Instead, their approach generates, by means of various techniques and the biometric features, a digital key that has nothing in common with the physical characteristics. If the key that is newly generated, for instance upon login to an internet service, is identical to the stored one, the user is recognized. If this key falls into the hands of criminals, however, they would not be able to exploit it, for the original physical characteristics would be needed to log in to the service. With different settings, any number of keys may be generated from one and the same physical characteristics. "A face, a finger or an eye therefore yields an infinite multitude of digital keys", says Nouak. "In this way, the same physical characteristics may be used to register in various systems as if you had a separate password for each service."

But what if a high-resolution image of a physical feature such as a fingerprint, hand-vein structure or iris pattern falls into the hands of an unauthorized person? Two weeks ago, Facebook engineer Gregg Stefancik argued that passwords had the advantage over biometrics that they were easy to change. The bodily characteristics are just very individual and, at the same time, limited [] . Biometrics must compensate this disadvantage by a high level of fake resistance. Here as well, Nouak and his co-researchers have technologies to protect the data in mind. "State-of-the-art procedures for counterfeit detection can make it very hard and far too expensive to create a suitable dummy", explains Nouak. "One solution would be to capture several biometric characteristics at the same time, thus increasing the level of security". If, in addition to your fingerprint, the vein pattern of your finger is verified, then not even the fingerprint image digitally recorded at some border crossings would suffice to create a suitable dummy.

Frequently, it is also underestimated which effort it takes to obtain the original biometric characteristics. The efforts to overcome a state-of-the-art biometric system are often out of proportion to the profit gained. Furthermore, an ordinary front door controlled by a fingerprint scanner is often much easier to open with a crowbar. "Even fingerprints involuntarily left behind on many objects are normally not sufficient to operate, let alone outsmart a high-quality biometric system", explains Nouak. "If I think about how many smartphone PINs and PC passwords I unwillingly know, just because the users have entered them much too openly in front of me, then I am very glad that I am able to unlock my smartphone comfortably with my finger now."

Nouak's group of researchers invites interested parties from industry and politics to get first-hand information on the options offered by biometrics.


Fraunhofer IGD is the world's leading institute for applied research in Visual Computing. Visual Computing is image- and model-based information technology and includes computer graphics, computer vision, as well as virtual and augmented reality.

In simple terms, the Fraunhofer researchers in Darmstadt, Rostock, Graz and Singapore are turning images into information and extracting information from images. In corporation with its partners, technical solutions and marketrelevant products are created.

Prototypes and integrated solutions are developed in accordance with customized requirements. In doing so, Fraunhofer IGD places users at the forefront, providing them with technical solutions to facilitate computer work and make it more efficient.

Owing to its numerous innovations, Fraunhofer IGD raises man-machine interaction to a new level. Man is able to work in a more result-oriented and effective way by means of the computer and visual-computing developments. Fraunhofer IGD has more than 200 employees.
The budget amounts over 17 million Euro.

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