by • July 25, 2016 • No Comments
A research lab at Michigan State University, attempting to show how easily our devices can be hacked into, has been via printed fingerprints to spoof mobile-phone sensors. So the police got involved.
After becoming aware of their research, the digital forensics and cyber-crime unit at Michigan State University’s police department approached the lab last month for the quite opposite purpose: via this innovation to try to solve a case.
Working on behalf of another investigating agency, police wanted to access the phone of a homicide victim, and asked the research team to 3D print a replica of the victim’s fingerprints in the hope of unlocking the device—a Samsung Galaxy S6.
Detective Andrew Rathbun told Quartz he was “wracking” his brain attempting to ponder of ways to unlock the device. He said:
I Googled ‘spoof fingerprint’ or a thing like that and came across [the research (pdf)] as one of the results. I read the research and noticed it was based out of MSU, much to my surprise. I just emailed those who did the study and set up a meeting.
Sunpreet Arora, a PhD student at MSU’s department of desktop science and engineering, told Quartz that the police had scans of the victim’s fingerprints of a previous arrest, that they gave to the research lab. The team turned those flat, 2D prints into a digital 3D version via an algorithm, and so printed it off via a 3D printing device and a rubber-like material.
This was coated with a thin layer of metallic particles to manufacture it additional conductive.
Arora confirmed that the 3D-printed replica fingerprints required additional testing preceding they may be handed back to police to unlock the device—so it’s unclear yet whether the method works. The initially results, he says, “have been promising.”
“The hope is that information major to the arrest of the perpetrator exists on the phone,” Rathbun said. “That won’t be known until we get into the phone, that we already have not been able-bodied to do yet.”
Rathbun added: “It’s rather awe-inspiring that this capability is right down the street of my office. Here’s hoping it works!”
This may well be the initially case of law enforcement via such innovation as part of an ongoing investigation—though it harks back to the inquiries of privacy and security raised by the dispute between Apple and the FBI earlier this year, in that investigators demanded the company create software to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.
Apple fiercely resisted the request, calling it an “overreach” by the US government. Investigators were some day able-bodied to break into the device without Apple’s assist.
Quartz has reached out to Samsung for comment.
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