It wasn’t so long ago that the concept of using your fingerprint to gain access to doors, unlock machinery, and identify yourself was confined to the world of Science Fiction.

However, in recent years there has been a boom in this technology, and now it looks set to become a part of our everyday lives in more ways than we ever imagined.

One obvious example is smartphones using fingerprint sensors to allow users to quickly unlock and access their device, a quicker method than the (already not exactly time consuming) numerical PIN.

Despite fingerprint security becoming more and more mainstream, it’s still largely misunderstood, and many people remain unaware of the benefits and risks of this technology. To help you out, we’ll give you a quick introduction into the world of fingerprint sensors…

What are the Main Uses for this Technology?

One of the most famous uses for fingerprints is, of course, in the world of forensic science. Many a criminal investigation has been solved after prints found on the scene of the crime have been matched with a suspect. But there are many other, more mundane uses too.

Most smartphones nowadays support fingerprint recognition technology, so if you have a relatively recent model you should have your own fingerprint scanner sitting right in your pocket. They can be used not just to unlock the phone, but also to access apps and log into online services, along with an array of other functions.

Fingerprint Security – What You Need to Know

Fingerprint Security – What You Need to Know

Many cars also now include fingerprint hardware as part of their security, allowing for quick easy unlocking. A less everyday but probably unsurprising use for fingerprint sensors is in high-security buildings, where they can be used as an extra layer of protection.

Airports are also increasingly relying on this technology. Every non-U.S. citizen arriving in America is required to submit their fingerprint evidence, and it can be stored and used for future identification.

Finally, another recent phenomenon which has raised eyebrows is the use of fingerprint scanners in banks. Customers often find this method of identification to be much quicker and more convenient than entering a series of codes or providing paper documents. However, it has been criticised sharply for not being safe enough.

How Does it Work?

Everyone has a unique set of fingerprints, so in theory they make the perfect form of identification. To use most devices of this kind, you need to first allow the machine to record your fingerprint data.

Then, whenever you want access, simply place your fingertip on the sensor, where it will be ‘read’ and compared with the saved data. If it’s a match, you’re good to go. There’s a bit more to it, however – with three main types of scanners. These are as follows:

Optical Scanners

These are the old-school method. They work by capturing an image of your fingertip every time you log in, and compare it to the saved image in the database. Its simple 2D imaging makes it easy to trick, and it relies on clean and unblemished skin. What’s more, it’s large and clunky; unsuitable for small devices.

Capacitive Scanners

A bit more advanced, these rely on 3D imaging. They involve placing your finger on a sensor plate which carries a light electric charge. Putting your fingerprints against it disturbs the charge, and the machine measures these changes (which are unique for each set of prints) and matches it to the records. These are harder to trick than optical scanners, and are the most common type of fingerprint sensor in use. However, they don’t come cheap.

Ultrasonic Scanners

The newest addition to the fingerprint scanning world, ultrasonic scanners are the most advanced to date. They send an ultrasonic pulse against your finger, which measures in great detail the intricacies of your fingerprints. This is the most secure method out there – but like all devices are useless if the data within is hacked.

What are the Benefits and Risks

The benefits of using fingerprint recognition hardware may seem obvious. Surely it’s much quicker to simply press your fingertip into your phone than enter a lengthy passcode every time, right?

What’s more, a fingerprint can intuitively feel more secure than a password. After all, it’s always possible that someone could guess your 4-digit code based on details about your life or pure chance, but a fingerprint seems much harder to replicate.

Unfortunately, however, fingerprint technology is not as safe as many people immediately assume. For a start – the technology is far from perfect. Even the most advanced sensors currently available to the general public are susceptible to being tricked with things like prosthetics, and the cheaper scanners are even less secure.

But hackers don’t even need to rely on such methods to gain access to your fingerprint-protected data. Since all the information about your fingerprints is stored in a database (it has to be – that’s how the technology works), then gaining access to this database means gaining access to your devices.

Of course, this is a risk with passwords, too. Like fingerprint data, passwords are often stored on servers which can be compromised, leaving your private data in the hands of any opportunistic cyber thieves.

However, the big difference is that passwords can be changed. It’s not too difficult to simply reset your login details after a breach or attempted attack, and the more security-savvy users will have different passwords for each of their accounts anyway.

With fingerprints, however, you only get one set. And once this information is captured by hackers, it’s basically game over. In one fell swoop, they will have gained access to every single account and device that uses fingerprint protection. What’s more, with no option to ‘reset’ the surface of your finger, using this type of security is rendered a no-go for you for the rest of eternity.

Another benefit of passwords over fingerprints is that nobody – short of torturing you – can force you to give up a password or passcode, because this information is considered ‘knowledge’ under U.S. law. Fingerprints carry no such protection, however, leaving many suspicious of how they could be used.

How can you stay safe?

There are steps you can take to ensure that your data remains safe, and protect yourself while using fingerprint security. However, relying solely on this technology is not recommended for the above reasons. A combination of password and fingerprint for each account may be your best shot – but remember to keep the passwords different!

If you have an Android device, remember that Avast Mobile Security is available for download on the Google store and will help to protect your device against numerous threats.

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