I’d know those finger veins anywhere

Forget fingerprints or facial features. Your veins could become the go-to for secure ID and authentication.

“The 3D finger vein biometric authentication method we developed enables levels of specificity and anti-spoofing that were not possible before,” says Jun Xia, from University at Buffalo in the US, lead author of a paper in the journal Applied Optics.

“Since no two people have exactly the same 3D vein pattern, faking a vein biometric authentication would require creating an exact 3D replica of a person’s finger veins, which is basically not possible.”

The idea is not completely new; systems have been developed using 2D images of finger veins. But these “are fundamentally limited by conventional imaging and tissue-light scattering”, the authors suggest.

To go to 3D, they turned to photoacoustic tomography, an imaging technique that combines light and sound.

Light from a laser illuminates the finger. If the light hits a vein, it creates a sound much in the same way that a grill creates a “poof” sound when it is lit. The system then detects that sound with an ultrasound detector and uses it to reconstruct a 3D image of the veins.

To better integrate light illumination and acoustic detection, Xia and colleagues fabricated a new light- and acoustic-beam combiner and designed an imaging window that allows the hand to be naturally placed on a platform, similar to a full-size fingerprint scanner.

They tested their new system with 36 people by imaging all eight fingers and report that it correctly accepted or rejected an identity 99% of the time. Using multiple fingers increased performance.

“We envision this technique being used in critical facilities, such as banks and military bases, that require a high level of security,” says co-author Giovanni Milione, from NEC Laboratories America.

“With further miniaturisation [it] could also be used in personal electronics or be combined with 2D fingerprints for two-factor authentication.”

For now, the researchers are working to make the system even smaller and to reduce the imaging time to less than one second.

Eventually, they say, it should be possible to use in smartphones, creating portable or wearable systems that perform biometric authentication in real time.

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