Computer 101

Launch / Planet Custom Computers / Computer 101 / 
Tech Support

Would your computer recognize your face?  Since the beginning of personal computing, we've been trying to make it hard for anyone but ourselves to get into our computers.  Short of using a set of keys like we do in our cars, we resorted to passwords.

There were problems with passwords, of course.  People tended to make them easy to remember.  We used the names of our pets, our kids, our birthdays, simplistic passwords like 12345, "letmein", "password", and things like that, that thieves could sometimes guess or stumble into by accident.

We were urged to make our passwords more complicated, which helped marginally, but created its own problem.  As often as not, people creating complicated passwords, would forget them.  Even if they were written down, the paper would get lost or thrown away and if you couldn't think of it, you had to bring your computer in and see if we could break it for you.  Most of the time, we could.

Of course, if we could break your password, so could the bad guys.  There were common enough ways to do it.  Even if you had a complex, random password using numbers and symbols, capitals, etc. there were ways to break through passwords.  So called "brute force" programs were developed that simply ran every possible combination of letters, symbols and numbers until the program got it right.  The more complex combinations might take several days to break.  The simple ones might take minutes.

Complicated passwords might foil the common thief, but not the more advanced.  At least, not for very long.  Maybe something else could be done.

Along came the fingerprint.  Placing your finger on your laptop track-pad gave the computer your fingerprint, and theoretically, no one else's fingerprint would do.  Unfortunately, the technology wasn't perfect.  The computer might open up to some one else's fingerprint.  An even more common problem was that it wouldn't always open up to yours.  When that happened, breaking into your own computer could be far more problematic.  There wasn't much that even we could do about it.

Furthermore, the popular television show "Mythbusters" showed how the fingerprint lock could be defeated.  It wasn't easy, to be sure, but it could be done.

After a number of experiments, success was achieved by taking a piece of ballistics gel and putting your fingerprint on it.  The first few attempts at using fingerprinted ballistics gel failed and it looked as though the fingerprint lock might truly be unbreakable.  Then one of them got the brilliant lick it.  That did it.  Of course, it would be hard to get your fingerprint on a piece of ballistics gel without your knowledge, but it could be done.  It could easily be taken from a dead or unconscious body, or if someone could talk you into giving them your fingerprint without your suspecting why.

As computers became more advanced and could process more information, they tried facial recognition.  So far, it's been more successful than fingerprint recognition.  But naturally, someone now claims to have broken it.

Apple has been the leader in facial recognition software but a security company in Hanoi Viet Nam claims to have fooled it.  This is how it works.

Every time you ask your computer to recognize your face, it updates its own recollection of it.  Your face after all, does change over time, even if relatively slowly.  My face has a lot more lines on it than it did just a few short years ago.  Still, too big a change will cause the facial recognition to fail you.  You could get a scar and key points of your facial features would remain the same.  Most of the features would remain relatively unchanged.  so, how did this security company beat it?

They developed a mask, that only vaguely resembles a human face, and still allows certain areas of the lips and around the eyes to show through.  This mask reportedly beats the facial recognition software every time and repeatedly lets the user in.  The security company claims that the mask was developed within a week and cost about $150.

To be sure, it's easy enough to make any kind of claims...but are they true?  Apple has their doubts.

For one thing, there are key questions that Apple has asked that aren't satisfactorily answered, and the security company has refused to give certain details that would allow others, including Apple, to test the claim.

For instance, was the computer tested with the mask over a period of time before the computer finally allowed it in?  How much of the forming of the mask was based on the face that originally was used for the facial recognition?

Other security companies (including Apple) have complained that the company known as Bklav, has been evasive in their answers as to how it was done, so that they couldn't repeat the experiment.

I don't believe that there's any type of security that can't eventually be broken, passwords, fingerpints, voice, retina or facial.  The question is, has this security company really broken the facial recognition lock, or are they simply making the claim to get a little recognition?  Or are they simply mistaken?  I wouldn't bet too much money either way.  I have to wonder though, how much trouble would my ever changing, ever growing beard give their facial recognition software?  John

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