Michigan police hoping to get into a murder victim’s phone have enlisted Michigan State University computer science and engineering professor Anil Jain’s help. He’s working on replicating the victim’s fingerprints using scans the police had on file from a prior arrest.
“We are still working on it and the phone has not yet been successfully unlocked,” Jain said in an email to Blue Sky.
Will he be able to do it?
“I absolutely think it’s possible but I think it’s really a combination of getting the right hardware and the right materials, conductive materials in a way that can be used in a match,” Dima Elissa ⇒, CEO and founder of VisMed-3D, which 3D prints body parts for education and to help surgeons prepare for procedures.
Smartphones use capacitive touch, which requires conductive materials to complete an electrical circuit (that’s why you can’t use a severed finger to open a phone). Skin can conduct electricity, as can some metals and even some plastics embedded with metal. In the Michigan case, Jain will print a plastic figure and coat it with metallic particles, Fusion reports.
“That makes a lot of sense,” Elissa said.
Aside from using the right materials, Elissa said another important factor will be the quality of the original fingerprint scan.
“If you have a high-quality scan, then you get a really high-quality potential output, assuming your hardware can handle that level of resolution,” she said.
Unlocking a phone using copies of biometrics could bypass the need to know a person’s passcode. That could have implications for future cases in which authorities want access to citizen’s phones, a hot topic earlier this year when the FBI demanded Apple unlock a suspected terrorist’s phone. The FBI subsequently managed to unlock the phone without Apple’s help.
“It’s very plausible. Is there a market for it?” Elissa said. “It seems like there’s a fair bit of interest on behalf of authorities to be able to crack the code of personal devices. I could see this really having a lot of value.”