Consumer Alert: Fingerprint hacking - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Consumer Alert: Fingerprint hacking

With millions of gadgets letting you use a fingerprint in place of a password, there are growing concerns your own fingerprint could be hacked. (Source: WOIO) With millions of gadgets letting you use a fingerprint in place of a password, there are growing concerns your own fingerprint could be hacked. (Source: WOIO)
(WOIO) - With millions of tablets and smart phones letting you use a fingerprint in place of a password, there are growing concerns your own fingerprint could be hacked. Which means the keys to our most sensitive information are hiding in plain sight.

To the naked eye, we just see photos of today's biggest celebrities. To a hacker, these high-resolution photos with clear views of hands and fingers could be used to recreate a fingerprint. Jan Krissler, a hacker in Berlin, Germany, claims to have done just that.

Krissler points to pictures of German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen that were taken with a standard camera by a photographer from about 10 feet away. He says he was able to zero in on her fingerprints and reproduce them using readily-available software. 

"The whole security of the system relies on keeping something secret that isn't secret, because you show it all around every time," he says.

Krissler says there are serious flaws in biometric security using fingerprints. Days after the finger-scanning iPhone 5S was released, he successfully unlocked a phone at a hacker's conference by recreating a dummy finger using glue to make a mold from a photographed fingerprint. He contends fingerprints are even less secure than passwords because, once they're stolen, they can't be changed.

"There's a lot of things worth a lot of money. Information can be worth millions," says security expert Kevin Mandia.

Mandia says fingerprints should not replace passwords, but instead, be used as a second layer of protection. Still, celebrities may be in more danger than most of us.

"It's not a scalable attack against general people. This would be a very targeted thing. You have somebody, their photos are publicly available, they're an important person, and the rewards outweigh the risks," Mandia explains. 

But the risks are now great enough that cybersecurity and privacy are prominent at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. But in a world where tech companies are working hard to keep up with hackers, it's been hard for them to put their finger on what will pop up next.

Several companies offering extra levels of protection see the potential for profit, offering new ways to keep consumers safe online.

Some tech companies have created smart phones that scan users' eyes. Hitachi is developing a scanner that identifies a person by the veins in their fingers.

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