Monday, March 19, 2012

Fingerprinting from a distance

Originally published 05/23/2011 on

Last January Sandra Swanson reported at Technology Review that Advanced Optical Systems (AOS) has designed a fingerprint reader that works from up to six feet away. This could be a big boon to security, and a great boost to identity theft, too. The techology as reported wasn't quite ready for either duty, but was expected to be by sometime in April and is called the "Airprint".

I tried to find more recent reports, but the only article I could find was an article in the May INC. that was so short and generic it was probably taken from the original Technology Review article. I tried to go to the AOS website, but it wasn't responding to queries. So I don't know if the company is still around, although I expect it is. AOS has been arounnd since 1988 and there were no reports if it shutting down or going bankrupt.

The Airprint isn't quite ready for prime time ID theft, being two large to easily conceal. But that will change. The units will get smaller, scan faster, and scan farther. Change the 'light source' to infra-red or ultra-violet and the chance of being detected by the victim is very low. A commenter on the original story noted that the technique would probably work for the raised characters on credit cards, too. Fortunately, my primary card is entirely printed, so it's safe from this scanner. But if someone can get one or more fingerprints and you credit card info, they've got access to a lot more than I'd want them to have.