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Лекция 5:

How Fingerprint Scanners Work

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3.1. Read the text

How Fingerprint Scanners Work

Computerized fingerprint scanners up until recently were pretty exotic technology in the real world. In the past few years, however, scanners have started popping up all over the place -- in police stations, high-security buildings and even on PC keyboards. You can pick up a personal USB fingerprint scanner for less than $100, and just like that, your computer's guarded by high-tech biometrics. Instead of, or in addition to, a password, you need your distinctive print to gain access.

Human beings happen to have built-in, easily accessible identity cards, i.e. tiny ridges of skin on their fingers. Fingerprints are a unique marker for a person, even an identical twin. And while two prints may look basically the same at a glance, a trained investigator or an advanced piece of software can pick out clear, defined differences.

A fingerprint scanner's job is to take the place of a human analyst by collecting a print sample and comparing it to other samples on record. It needs to get an image of your finger, and it needs to determine whether the pattern of ridges and valleys in this image matches the pattern of ridges and valleys in pre-scanned images.

There are a number of different ways to get an image of somebody's finger. The most common methods today are optical scanning and capacitance scanning. The heart of an optical scanner is a charge coupled device (CCD), the same light sensor system is used in digital cameras and camcorders.

The scanning process starts when you place your finger on a glass plate, and a CCD camera takes a picture. If the processor finds that the image is crisp and properly exposed, it proceeds to comparing the captured fingerprint with fingerprints on file.

Like optical scanners, capacitive fingerprint scanners generate an image of the ridges and valleys that make up a fingerprint. But instead of sensing the print using light, the capacitors use electrical current.

There are several ways a security system can verify that somebody is an authorized user. Most systems are looking for one or more of the following:

  • What you have
  • What you know
  • Who you are

To get past a "what you have" system, you need some sort of "token," such as an identity card with a magnetic strip. A "what you know" system requires you to enter a password or PIN number. A "who you are" system is actually looking for physical evidence that you are who you say you are -- a specific fingerprint, voice or iris pattern.

"Who you are" systems like fingerprint scanners have a number of advantages over other systems. To name few:

  • Physical attributes are much harder to fake than identity cards.
  • You can't guess a fingerprint pattern like you can guess a password.
  • You can't misplace your fingerprints like you can misplace an access card.
  • You can't forget your fingerprints like you can forget a password.

But, as effective as they are, they certainly aren't infallible, and they do have major disadvantages. Optical scanners can't always distinguish between a picture of a finger and the finger itself, and capacitive scanners can sometimes be fooled by a mold of a person's finger. If somebody did gain access to an authorized user's prints, the person could trick the scanner. In a worst-case scenario, a criminal could even cut off somebody's finger to get past a scanner security system. Some scanners have additional pulse and heat sensors to verify that the finger is alive, rather than a mold or dismembered digit, but even these systems can be fooled by a gelatin print mold over a real finger.

To make these security systems more reliable, it's a good idea to combine the biometric analysis with a conventional means of identification, such as a password (in the same way an ATM requires a bank card and a PIN code).

The real problem with biometric security systems is the extent of the damage when somebody does manage to steal the identity information. If you lose your credit card or accidentally tell somebody your secret PIN number, you can always get a new card or change your code. But if somebody steals your fingerprints, you're pretty much out of luck for the rest of your life. You wouldn't be able to use your prints as a form of identification until you were absolutely sure all copies had been destroyed. There's no way to get new prints.

But even with this significant drawback, fingerprint scanners and biometric systems are an excellent means of identification. In the future, they'll most likely become an integral part of most peoples' everyday life, just like keys, ATM cards and passwords are today.

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Наталия Маркелова
Наталия Маркелова
Добрый день, хочу перевестись по этому курсу на обучение с тьютором.будет ли он проверять переводы с русского на английский в части заданий, например, . Translate from Russian into English
Мария Андреева
Мария Андреева

Кстати, да. В лекции 37 курса "Английский язык для ИТ-специалистов" Vocabulary нет совсем!

Азат Сафиуллин
Азат Сафиуллин
Россия, Челябинск, ЮРГУ, 1998
Павел Плахотник
Павел Плахотник
Украина, Днепропетровск