In the 21st century, having your identity stolen is no longer just a fear; it’s a reality. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. As technological innovation continues to evolve at an immeasurable pace, the fear of identity theft has evolved into a fear of stolen biometrics.

Why fingerprints? Current access systems require an individual to place their finger on a fingerprint sensor at an access point, such as a door or computer. The sensor reads the fingerprint and transmits the image. Once the fingerprint is confirmed, the individual will be permitted access. Unfortunately, hackers adapt as quickly as technology, so now, these access systems are at risk as well.

“A compromised fingerprint can be used to deceive a fingerprint scanner by creating a fake finger of gelatin or Play-Doh,” said Asem Othman, a Ph. D. candidate at West Virginia University’s Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “The stolen fingerprint image can be directly injected into any communication channel to attack a system and access the user’s data.”

Othman presented a paper, co-authored by Dr. Arun Ross, associate professor at WVU, at the 2011 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Workshop on Information Forensics and Security that was held in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil.

Othman’s paper, entitled “Mixing Fingerprints for Generating Virtual Identities,” proposes a method to mix two different fingerprints in order to create a new fingerprint and new identity, in the case of identity theft through stolen biometrics. The innovative paper earned Othman the best student paper award at the conference.

“Asem and I were discussing the possibility of mixing a face image with a fingerprint image, or a fingerprint image with an iris image,” explained Ross regarding how the idea came about. “If a person’s face image and fingerprint image can be mixed and used for matching, then the originals can be discarded and the new hybrid image can be used for recognizing that person.

“The first phase in testing this theory involved mixing two different fingerprint images,” said Ross. “When we tested the technique, we were pleased to find out that it actually worked.”

This technique can also be used to mix images of your left and right index fingers to create a new virtual identity.

“The technique can also be used to mix images of your index finger and your friend’s index finger in order to create a new identity that can be used for accessing a joint bank account,” Ross said.

In both options, only the mixed fingerprint is stored, which adds to the security of the system.

Othman received a travel grant for winning the award and hopes to have something new to present for the 2012 conference.

“I hope that this idea will be used to conceal and protect the privacy of the user who participated in biometric databases,” Othman said. “I enjoyed researching this phenomenon and hope to continue working with Dr. Ross to improve our mixing technique.”



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CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon