Fingerprint scanning is a standard biometric method that authenticates a user’s identity based upon who they are. Even though authentication using fingerprint scanning attempts to verify identities by using a completely unique characteristic, it is not 100% secure or reliable.
A user’s fingerprint consists of a number of ridges and valleys on the top layer of skin. A fingerprint scanner plate using optics or capacitors collects a print sample of the pattern of peaks and valleys, converts the pattern to a number or algorithm, and compares it to other stored templates.
There are two basic types of fingerprint scanners, dynamic and static, with the latter being easier to defeat because a print can be extracted from another object and transferred to the scanner. The dynamic scanner uses a small opening or window to capture prints, which makes it much more difficult to defeat.
Circumventing fingerprint scanners is possible because optical scanners can’t always distinguish between a picture of a finger and the finger itself, and capacitive scanners can sometimes be fooled by a mold of a person’s finger. Some scanners have additional pulse and heat sensors to verify the finger is alive but even these systems can be fooled by a gel or silicone printed mold over a real finger.
In addition to threats by posed attackers, fingerprint scanning has inherent problems, for instance in cold climates it might be too cold for fingerprints to register on a heat sensor or a finger may be too dry to close a capacitive circuit. Further, the (FAR) false accept rate and (FRR) false reject rate of fingerprint scanning compared to other biometric standards is somewhat misleading due to the fact that much of the data comes from biased vendors. However, in general fingerprint scanning rates are better than facial recognition rates but less favorable when compared to iris recognition or palm print scanning.
Keep in mind that there is no perfect biometric system and each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, and must be evaluated according to its application.
To make security systems more reliable, it’s a good idea to combine biometric analysis with other means of identification, such as a password, or other multi-factor authentication systems.
We would not recommend the fingerprint scanning biometric technique for locations or objects that require a high-level of security. If a building with highly sensitive information had fingerprint scanning as the only security device, then even a layman could lift a fingerprint from a car door, glass, etc., and gain access to the building.
Like passwords, fingerprint scanning is merely a deterrent from access to information. Fingerprint scanners are used on many laptops today, but the primary security measure is to lock it in the trunk when traveling or keep it locked in the house because with enough time, someone could break through password or fingerprint security.