Even retinal scanners are becoming common in corporate settings, when in the past their expense was only justified by high-security areas like the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).
Now, however, academic researchers sick-and-tired of memorizing long passwords and bolstered by the fact that even Captcha is no longer secure, have invented a 3-D fingerprint scanner that is not only immune to false-negatives due to oil or moisture on the skin, but even looks beneath the surface of the skin, to create an ultra-secure identification system that could make passwords a thing of the past.
"In terms of robustness, the ultrasound sensor is less prone to errors due to dry/wet/oily fingers since it can image the dermis (beneath the surface) rather than just the epidermis," Professor David Horsley (University of California Davis) told EE Times. He is also co-director of the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center, along with co-director professor Bernhard Boser at the University of California at Berkeley. "Secondly, conducting fingerprint recognition from 3D features makes these images harder to spoof, since you need to create a 3D model of the finger to reproduce them."
Today a determined hacker can lift your fingerprints from any glass you touch, using the same methods that the police do to identify criminals, making it relatively easy to reproduce that image of a 2D fingerprint and spoof a device protected that way. Not so with a 3D fingerprint that looks beneath the skin with ultrasonic microelectromechnical system (MEMS) sensor.
"With a 3D fingerprint, the subsurface features are private," Horsley told us.
To prove the concept, Horsley's research team collaborated with Invensense Inc. (San Jose, California), using Invensense to fabricate the device using its Invensense shuttle service which gives MEMS developers access to its patented MEMS-on-CMOS Nasiri fabrication toolkit.
"Invensense provided the fabrication service. We used a modified version of their NF Shuttle which is a multi-project wafer (MPW) service," Horsley told us. "They also provided funding to our students through a collaboration membership at our research center, the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center (BSAC)."