Researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics found that hackers can steal a victim’s biometric data by recreating fingerprints from pictures posted on social media.
The Institute found that users could be at risk even without posting extremely high-resolution photos online. As long as the range of the photograph was about three meters and the area was well lit, hackers can steal fingerprints for later use. This means that even something as benign as putting up a peace sign in a selfie can be dangerous, since it openly exposes fingerprints to the lens.
According to an article by The Telegraph, released on Jan. 12, since an individual’s prints do not change throughout the course of his or her lifetime, and can be linked to locks on their personal information as well as bank accounts, stolen biometric data means vulnerability for a lifetime, especially if the data is sold illegally.
“[Students] shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that biometric security is necessarily better than traditional security mechanisms,” said Dr. Joe Chung, Unix Administrator-Teacher of the computer science and software engineering department. “An inkjet-printed fingerprint could be enough to unlock a phone. Biometric security may be more convenient than typing in a password or pin, but it’s not inherently better.”
Technology is advancing to accommodate for more secure biometric security that may offset fingerprint theft. According to the article [from The Telegraph], a China-based company is working on creating ‘live’ fingerprint scanners that analyze living tissue underneath the print to ensure the fingerprint isn’t a dummy created by hackers to steal personal information.
“It is alarming, yet not surprising to me, that biometric data can be stolen via online photos,” said Mary Harris, a specialist professor in public relations. “As technology continues to advance, I am sure we will see more and more of this.”
According to Chung, students may be better targets for schemes that steal personal information like this because they spend more time online than older generations. “The Internet that they’ve been raised on also has more online services, such as social apps, that require more accounts to be created than ever before,” said Chung.
In addition, Chung thinks students are at further risk because they spend more time than other demographics in computer labs where they may be susceptible to become victims of those trying to steal personal information.
“It’s quite alarming how personal information can be commandeered by hackers through fingerprints found in photos we post online. It really puts everything into perspective on how we need to be more careful about what we post,” said Kathy Chen, a freshman chemistry student.
“As the rise of these concerns continues to take place, I recommend that students make the necessary changes in what types of photos they are taking and sharing so that their data is not stolen,” said Harris. This means that students may have to change their own photo-sharing behavior and habits once they realize the risks of putting certain data online.
Chung advises students that suspect they have been part of hacks to notify the appropriate services after taking defensive action to ensure their accounts are secure. “[Students should] change their online service passwords and contact university or local authorities who can warn other students. They should check and secure the things that matter: bank and credit card accounts. If their financial accounts have been compromised, it may mean contacting a credit reporting agency,” he said.
According to Edward Christensen, Vice President for Information Management, identity theft and unauthorized access are significant issues and are more likely to result from phishing emails, malware installed on a computer or skimming credit card info in a public place.
“While connected technology advances make our lives easier they also bring about new ways to for crime and fraud. Security is in the hands of the user, not just technology solutions, so be aware of the latest advice for protecting yourself,” said Christensen.
“Think before you post,” said Kyle Frankenbush, a freshman computer science student. “There’s no turning back. Once something is posted online, it’s there forever, even if you try and ‘delete’ it.”
PHOTO COURTESY of Yasir Alsaedi
PHOTO TAKEN by Jamilah McMillan