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Japanese researchers check IDs with eyeball twitch

'Spoof-proof' biometrics

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Biometric identity scanners are attracting more attention as safe way to handle user authentication and security. But a team of Japanese researchers claim current methods are bunk if approached by a sufficiently sophisticated intruder.

Iris scans, electronic fingerprinting and signature recognition – they're certainly better than jotting a password down on a post-it note.

"However, biometric information can easily be leaked or copied," the researchers claim. "It is therefore desirable to devise biometric authentication that does not require biometric information to be kept secret."

Writing for the International Journal of Biometrics, researchers lead by Masakatsu Nishigaki and Daisuke Arai of Shizuoka University say they've turned to a superior alternative that can't be spoofed: the unique reflex response of a person's eyeball.

Nishigaki and Arai use the eye's involuntary twitchy movement combined with the position of its blind spot as a biometric. Every vertebrate has a blind spot, or scotoma, where the optic nerve exits the retina. This visual gap is not perceived normally because the visual field of each eye overlaps the blind spot of the other.

The researchers use the blind spot position to trigger eye movement. A visual cue is displayed within and outside a person's blind spot, and the reflex time taken until the eye moves is measured. The team has also published different versions of reflex-based authentication, such as using blind spot position and pupil contraction.

Nishigaki points out that if the blind spot position alone was used, an imposter could conceivably use contact lenses or even surgery to fool the system – making it no safer than an iris scan. All that's needed is for the biometric information to fall into the wrong hands.

That's certainly not inconceivable. Just last month, medical firm The Wellcome Trust accidentally emailed dozens of fingerprints and iris scans to the wrong people. While an impostor getting massive reconstruction surgery in order to access secure data is presently a bit far-fetched, eliminating at least one weak link in the chain sounds like a good idea if we're going to be forced to go along with this whole biometrics thing. ®

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