You can get lots of gadgets--laptops, mice, even a $30 flash drive--that lock with the swipe of your fingerprint. Fingerprint scanners are no longer only for spies; they use them at the gates of Disney World to keep you from sneaking in. But don't assume that these tools are foolproof. Biometric-enabled devices may spare you from memorizing yet another password, but they can be cracked like any other security method. Case in point: engineers at Clarkson University have fooled fingerprint scanners with phony fingers made of Play-Doh. Their scanners rejected only 10 percent of the dummy clay digits and 6 percent of cadaver fingers. But researchers got better, opposite results after adding a mechanism to recognize only living material (standard in biometric gizmos you might buy). While a 90 percent success rate may seem high, it's not airtight enough if someone's safety or livelihood is at stake.
Fingerprint scanners are the most popular form of biometric tech, tech that can verify your identity based on physical attributes such as fingerprint whorls, the shape of a jawline, the patterns in an iris, or the style of a strut. This technology is central to debates of late around security and privacy, especially as biometric identifiers are coming to U.S. driver's licenses.