Photo/IllutrationA finger vein pattern reproduced by photographing the finger with a digital camera and applying special treatment to the image (Provided by the National Institute of Informatics)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The National Institute of Informatics has developed a way to thwart identity thieves from stealing finger vein patterns that are used to authenticate IDs.

Finger vein patterns, which are unique to each individual, are located under the skin, making it difficult to accurately read them under visible light. Because of that, finger vein authentication is considered a highly safe biometric technology.

Vein patterns are typically read by sensors based on the red blood cells’ tendency to easily absorb near-infrared rays after transporting oxygen in the veins. The technology has been adopted for ATM use, entry to facilities and other purposes.

But it isn’t foolproof.

Scientists at the institute say that photographing fingers from a distance with a digital camera can reveal the vein patterns.

“Biometric information used for personal identification does not change throughout one’s life, so the risks will remain once it is stolen,” said Isao Echizen, a professor at the institute. “I want to establish a technology to prevent unintentional leaks of such information.”

Echizen and his colleagues developed the prototype of a transparent sticker with a fake blue vein design to prevent the patterns from being stolen.

The fake veins do not affect authentication sensors at ATMs, for example, but make it impossible for digital cameras to read the correct vein patterns.

The team says theft of vein patterns is not rampant, and that a cheating method that it tested is successful for only limited types of sensors. However, they say it’s never too early to design theft-prevention measures for a biometrics market that is expected to expand.

Echizen and his colleagues used a digital single-lens reflex camera and zoom lens to take photos of fingers from 50 centimeters away under sunlight on a clear day.

When the images were processed with photo editing software and other special tools, the vein patterns were successfully recovered.

The vein patterns were printed on paper, and the sheets were placed near a vein sensor. It recognized 11 of 16 fingers of two researchers photographed.

The team noted that the photos were taken under ideal conditions, and that other types of sensors have different mechanisms designed to prevent falsifications.

“We don’t expect ATMs and other machines will be deceived by our method in the very near future,” Echizen said.

The team said its prevention technology is intended to prepare for a time when identity thieves become more technologically sophisticated.

In 2014, a hacker in Germany reproduced the fingerprint of a politician based on an image taken by a commercially available digital camera. That incident raised concerns about the safety of biometric systems.

According to research firm Fuji Keizai Co., the market size of biometrics in Japan is expected to grow to 13.8 billion yen ($123 million) by 2020.

Sales of products related to vein authentication technology in Japan have grown following the start of the “My Number” national identification system and the strengthening of private companies’ security systems, according to Fuji Keizai.