It Won’t Be Difficult to Spoof Smartphone Finger Vein Scanners

Smartphones are already equipped with fingerprint and iris ID systems, but a Japanese company wants to ID you by the veins in your fingertips. But is it really more secure?

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Oct 29 2016, 2:00pm

Image: tia_inspirativa/Flickr

In 2011, the field of biometric identification—using physical features to identify yourself—went from an obscure futuristic technology to just another smartphone feature with the release of Motorola's Atrix 4G, the first phone to feature a fingerprint scanner. Today, fingerprint ID is a commonplace on new smartphones, which has pushed some manufacturers like Samsung to take its biometric ID features a step further by integrating iris scanners into the Galaxy Note 7.

On Monday, Japanese electronics manufacturer Hitachi announced that it was raising the bar for biometric ID once again after it figured out a way to use smartphone cameras to identify individuals by the veins in their fingertips.

This latest development comes on the heels of years of research on Hitachi's fittingly titled VeinID technology. Hitachi has already begun implementing VeinID tech in banks and hospitals—the key was figuring out how to get it into people's pockets. Prior to the latest development, which uses a normal smartphone camera to image the veins in a person's fingertips, a special infrared image sensor was necessary to capture finger vein patterns which are nearly invisible to the human eye.

Image: Hitachi

The new VeinID smartphone technology can identify each individual finger and extract their vein patterns based on color information from a normal photo of the user's hand. The already "highly accurate" technology can increase its accuracy when images and extracted vein patterns of multiple fingers from the user are combined.

The researchers at Hitachi hope that this new technology will allow for safer online transactions, especially when dealing with sensitive personal data such as credit card numbers or medical information. Although smartphone fingerprint ID systems are pretty secure, they're not immune to spoofing, which Hitachi claims is significantly more difficult to accomplish with VeinID since the veins are in vivo.

Despite these claims of improved security, this new technology has previously shown itself to be vulnerable to spoofing as well. An IEEE research paper from 2014 was able to print off finger vein patterns on a normal printer, which was able to trick an open-source vein scanner with 86 percent accuracy. Hitachi could not be reached for comment on how its new technology surmounted this difficulty.

Even assuming Hitachi is able to overcome vein spoofing, whether the technology will ever be adopted by consumers is an entirely different question. A lot of people are still freaked out by the dystopian feel of fingerprint and iris ID systems, so it's safe to say that the deployment of a smartphone finger vein scanner might get a little…under their skin.