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Biometrics firm seeks to foil fraudsters

Viisage patents way to keep facial scanners from being tricked. Also: New tools do all-in-one scan of face, fingerprints.

Spiking somebody's eyeball on a pencil tip to trick a retinal scanner may be over the top, but biometrics companies are serious about foiling fraud.

Viisage said Tuesday it has patented a way to prevent the tricking of facial scanners. The Billerica, Mass., company also this week announced tools to combine scans of the face and fingerprints into a single, more secure application of biometrics.

Biometrics--using the body as authentication--is still nascent, but increasingly topical. Around the world, governments are looking at including biometric data in passports to prevent fraud. Also, biometrics are seen as a way to add a level of security for access to buildings or computer systems, for example.

But although biometrical data might be unique to a person, the systems are not infallible.

In facial scanning, a person is identified by a camera scanning his or her face from a distance. The system could be tricked simply by showing the camera a picture or a sketch, Viisage found. The company calls this problem "spoofing" and has been working to solve it, said Mohamed Lazzouni, chief technology officer at Viisage.

"Not unlike in the IT world, it is an attempt by which you try to defeat the system in order to get unprivileged access," Lazzouni said. Spoofers would show the camera a picture and move it around to make it seem like the actual person and get access.

To solve the problem, Viisage has developed what it calls "live-ness detection." A camera will actually be able to determine that the face it is recording is authentically that of a live human being.

"We look for natural facial movements such as the closing and opening of eyelids or twitching," Lazzouni said. "These are intrinsic movements that a camera can see, analyze, parse and get a good mapping that this is, in fact, live skin and a live human being."

A patent was granted on the technology in July, but Viisage did not announce it until earlier this week. The company believes its technology beats that of rivals, which have sought to foil spoofers by looking for reflectance typical of photo paper, for example, Lazzouni said.

Additionally, Viisage on Tuesday released tools that let developers combine scans of the face and fingerprints into a single, more secure application of biometrics. The combination of both should provide more accurate identification and make it easier to offer multifactor, biometric authentication, Lazzouni said.

"The main idea behind this is that multifactor authentication is the proven security best practice," Lazzouni said.

Viisage's rivals in the biometrics market include Identix and Cognitec Systems.