Synthetic fingerprints could lead to secure, uncopyable identification methods

Researchers in South Korea have developed a system for creating randomly generated wrinkles and markings on a piece of plastic, akin to a human fingerprint, but manufacturable and essentially impossible to copy.

Researchers at Kyung He University see their synthetic fingerprints as a more secure alternative to security cards, or even human fingerprints, according to New Scientist. The wrinkles are created by coating plastic particles in silica, then soaking in ethanol, with a “chaotic” process influenced by temperatures, dust and more, resulting in an entirely unique identifier.

And though the fingerprints generated are random, researchers found ways to control specific points of the creation process. Doing this could allow for similar keys to be grouped together, enabling secure building access to a subset of keys, or providing confidential information to authenticated parties.

The technology’s creators also see synthetic fingerprints opening pathways to entirely new ways of identifying and verifying. In one example given, the unique fingerprint could be affixed to a piece of priceless art, ensuring the buyer without a doubt that the item they are purchasing is the real deal.

To accompany the manufactured fingerprints, Wook Park and his team at Kyung Hee University are also developing a conductive scanner that would read electrical information from the surface, much like the fingerprint sensor found on a smartphone.

As technology and verification methods advance, companies and researchers find new ways to thwart fraud and securely identify not only people, but objects. Even the term biometrics, which typically refers to unique characteristics like a fingerprint or iris scan, has expanded to include unique characteristics like typing style on a keyboard.