How Fingerprint Scanners Work
Computerized fingerprint scanners have been around for quite a few years, but it was not until relatively recently that fingerprint scanners started to make the presence felt in normal everyday situations. Today most of us will have at least seen a biometric fingerprint reader either at the bank or in the office and this article is designed to explain how the fingerprint scanner really works.
People have tiny ridges of skin on their fingertips. The pattern of ridges and “valleys” on fingers make it easier for the hands to grip things, in the same way, a rubber tread pattern helps a tire grip the road.
Fingerprints are a unique marker for a person, even an identical twin. And while two prints may look basically the same at a glance, a trained investigator or an advanced piece of software can pick out clear, defined differences.
This is the basic idea of fingerprint analysis, in both crime investigation and security. A fingerprint scanner’s job is to take the place of a human analyst by collecting a print sample and comparing it to other samples on record.
A fingerprint scanner system has two basic jobs — it needs to get an image of your finger, and it needs to determine whether the pattern of ridges and valleys in this image matches the pattern of ridges and valleys in pre-scanned images.
There are a number of different ways to get an image of somebody’s finger. The most common methods today are optical scanning and capacitance scanning. Both types come up with the same sort of image, but they go about it in completely different ways.
Like optical scanners, capacitive fingerprint scanners generate an image of the ridges and valleys that make up a fingerprint. But instead of sensing the print using light, the capacitors use electrical current.
The main advantage of a capacitive scanner is that it requires a real fingerprint-type shape, rather than the pattern of light and dark that makes up the visual impression of a fingerprint. This makes the system harder to trick.
Pros and Cons
There are several ways a security system can verify that somebody is an authorized user. Most systems are looking for one or more of the following:
- What you have
- What you know
- Who you are
To get past a “what you have” system, you need some sort of “token,” such as an identity card with a magnetic strip. A “what you know” system requires you to enter a password or PIN number. A “who you are” system is actually looking for physical evidence that you are who you say you are – a specific fingerprint, voice or iris pattern.
“Who you are” systems like fingerprint scanners have a number of advantages over other systems. To name few:
- Physical attributes are much harder to fake than identity cards.
- You can’t guess a fingerprint pattern like you can guess a password.
- You can’t misplace your fingerprints, irises or voice like you can misplace an access card.
- You can’t forget your fingerprints like you can forget a password.
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