Eyeballs, a severed hand, or fingers carried in ziplock bags.
Back alley eye replacement surgery. These are scenarios used
in recent blockbuster movies like Steven Spielberg's "Minority
Report" and "Tomorrow Never Dies" to illustrate how unsavory
characters in high-tech worlds beat sophisticated security
and identification systems.
Sound fantastic? Maybe not. Biometrics is the science of
using biological properties, such as fingerprints, an iris
scan, or voice recognition, to identify individuals. And in
a world of growing terrorism concerns and increasing security
measures, the field of biometrics is rapidly expanding.
"Biometric systems automatically measure the unique physiological
or behavioral 'signature' of an individual, from which a decision
can be made to either authenticate or determine that individual's
identity," explained Stephanie C. Schuckers, an associate
professor of electrical and computer engineering at Clarkson
University. "Today, biometric systems are popping up everywhere
- in places like hospitals, banks, even college residence
halls - to authorize or deny access to medical files, financial
accounts, or restricted or private areas."
"And as with any identification or security system," Schuckers
adds, "biometric devices are prone to 'spoofing' or attacks
designed to defeat them."
Spoofing is the process by which individuals overcome a system
through an introduction of a fake sample. "Digits from cadavers
and fake fingers molded from plastic, or even something as
simple as Play-Doh or gelatin, can potentially be misread
as authentic," she explains. "My research addresses these
deficiencies and investigates ways to design effective safeguards
and vulnerability countermeasures. The goal is to make the
authentication process as accurate and reliable as possible."
Schuckers' biometric research is funded by the National Science
Foundation (NSF), the Office of Homeland Security and the
Department of Defense. She is currently assessing spoofing
vulnerability in fingerprint scanners and designing methods
to correct for these as part of a $3.1 million interdisciplinary
research project funded through the NSF. The project, "ITR:
Biometrics: Performance, Security and Societal Impact," investigates
the technical, legal and privacy issues raised from broader
applications of biometric system technology in airport security,
computer access, or immigration. It is a joint initiative
among researchers from Clarkson, West Virginia University,
Michigan State University, St. Lawrence University, and the
University of Pittsburgh.
Fingerprint scanning devices often use basic technology,
such as an optical camera that take pictures of fingerprints
which are then "read" by a computer. In order to assess how
vulnerable the scanners are to spoofing, Schuckers and her
research team made casts from live fingers using dental materials
and used Play-Doh to create molds. They also assembled a collection
of cadaver fingers.
In the laboratory, the researchers then systematically tested
more than 60 of the faked samples. The results were a 90 percent
false verification rate.
"The machines could not distinguish between a live sample
and a fake one," Schuckers explained. "Since liveness detection
is based on the recognition of physiological activities as
signs of life, we hypothesized that fingerprint images from
live fingers would show a specific changing moisture pattern
due to perspiration but cadaver and spoof fingerprint images
In live fingers, perspiration starts around the pore, and
spreads along the ridges, creating a distinct signature of
the process. Schuckers and her research team designed a computer
algorithm that would detect this pattern when reading a fingerprint
image. With the new detection system integrated into the device,
less than 10 percent of the spoofed samples were able to fool
Addressing potential problems before they can occur is one
of the goals of Schuckers' biometrics research. "As security
systems based on biometrics continue to develop, it is important
that people are reassured that their privacy is protected,"
she said. "How confident will someone feel giving his/her
fingerprint over a public communication channel, such as the
Internet? The technology needs to be solid and reliable and
offer adequate privacy protection before biometric security
systems will be accepted by the public."
Schuckers is also a member of the Center for Identification
Technology, a cooperative research center headquartered at
West Virginia University that brings together the NSF, industry
and government agencies, and university researchers. She is
director of the Biomedical Signal Analysis Laboratory at Clarkson.
Schuckers joined the faculty of Clarkson in 2002. She received
her doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University
of Michigan in 1997.
Clarkson University, located in Potsdam, New York is a private,
nationally ranked university with a reputation for developing
innovative leaders in engineering, business, the sciences,
health sciences and the humanities. At Clarkson, 3,000 high-ability
students excel in an environment where learning is not only
positive and supportive but spans the boundaries of traditional
disciplines and knowledge. Faculty achieve international recognition
for their research and scholarship and connect students to
their leadership potential in the marketplace through dynamic,
real-world problem solving.
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