Creating a 3D replica of someone's hand, complete with all five fingerprints, and then breaking into a secure vault may sound like a plot from a James Bond movie, but Michigan State University Distinguished Professor Anil Jain recently discovered this may not be as far-fetched as once thought and wants security companies and the public to be aware of the possibility.

Jain and his biometrics team were studying how to test and calibrate fingerprint scanners commonly used across the globe at police departments, airport immigration counters, banks, and even amusement parks. A standard life-like 3D model was needed to test the scanners so they could have a consistent, repeatable way to determine the accuracy of the scans and establish which scanner is better. They created life-size 3D hand models, complete with all five fingerprints, by using a high-resolution 3D printer that can produce the same ridges and valleys as a real finger.

"Like any optical device, fingerprint and hand scanners need to be calibrated, but currently there is no standard method for calibrating them," said Jain. "This is the first time a whole hand 3D target has been created to calibrate fingerprint scanners. As a byproduct of this research, we realized a fake 3D hand, essentially a spoof, with someone's fingerprints, could potentially allow a crook to steal the person's identity to break into a vault, contaminate a crime scene, or enter the country illegally."

Now another application of this technology will be to evaluate the spoof-resistance of commercial fingerprint scanners. "We have highlighted a security loophole and the limitations of existing fingerprint scanning technology, now it's up to the scanner manufacturers to design a scanner that is spoof-resistant. The burden is on them to tell whether the finger being placed on the scanner is real human skin or a printed material," said Jain.

The study aims to design and develop standard models and procedures for consistent and reliable evaluation of fingerprint readers and is funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.