EXCLUSIVE: Next-generation fingerprint sensor security

Eight fingerprints in blue - biometrics

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Next Biometrics CEO Peter Heuman explores why fingerprint technologies can provide a high-security approach to identifying individuals.

Ever since Apple launched its touch ID back in 2013, fingerprint sensors have become an essential integration in our phones, laptops and tablets. Consumers and end-users tend to love the simplicity and usability fingerprint sensors have brought. However, the average end-user may not necessarily stop to consider the security or integrity of this technology enough. As the overall threat landscape increases, it further emphasizes the need for today’s product developers to act and take on such a responsibility.

Understanding the importance of ensuring both integrity and enhanced security in product integrations is not only important – it is business-critical.

Proofing for the future

Today, there are several different fingerprint technologies in use. Optical scanning, i.e., optical sensors, is the oldest method of capturing and comparing fingerprints. However, this technology only captures a 2D picture and hacking experiments have shown they can unfortunately also easily be tricked. Thus, product developers aiming to spoof-proof their portfolios may want to explore other options. Optical sensors are therefore not always secure enough to trust with your most sensitive data.

The majority of fingerprint sensors integrated into smartphones today consist of capacitive sensors. Although this sensor technology is much tougher to fool than optical sensors, it is still doable. The image performance of capacitive sensors can be sensitive to rapidly changing human factors such as moisture and sweat, making them unsuitable for the most demanding authentication and verification areas.

As the number of threats facing login and authentication solutions steadily increases, organizations ought to take preventive action in order to secure both their own and their customers’ sensitive data. As of today, active thermal fingerprint technology is one of the best ways to do that.

So how does it work? Thermal fingerprint scanners act in a similar fashion as capacitive fingerprint readers. However, instead of measuring an electric flow as the capacitive readers do, thermal fingerprint readers measure temperature variations. In short, this means that the warmth of your finger transfers to the sensor, where the ridges of the print create more heat than the valleys – which in turn allows for the creation of an image for analysis. Next Biometrics’ patented Active Thermal sensor then uses this unique imprint to determine the identity of the user. So far, there are no known, successful attempts to trick active thermal fingerprint sensors.

“Several of our customers are looking to upgrade their products to the next level of sensor security. We’re delighted our technology helps them achieve this,” said Heuman.

He also stressed the importance of understanding that different sensor technologies have varying ideal application areas, adding that optical sensors have of course historically done an important job as they’ve paved the way for the technical development we now see.

The tale of transformation

Helping customers switch to more secure sensor solutions and transform their security is a key part of Next’s identity. Stepping in as CEO for the company in September 2019, Heuman quickly saw that the organization was in need of more structure, a different leadership and clear targets. A reset was inevitable.

“We have come a long way since I started as CEO, in terms of reconfiguring Next to make it a successful company,” revealed Heuman.

Actively driving revenues through a clearly communicated growth strategy and executing cost-control have also been essential components in Next’s journey through a few challenging years, including both the pandemic and global semiconductor shortages.

Today, Next is headquartered in Oslo, Norway and has 40 employees in the US, Europe, India and China.

A unique solution

Two of Next’s strongest divisions are public security and access control, largely thanks to its FBI-certified FAP20 sensor, which has undergone rigorous tests to pass the strict security requirements. Governments today are exploring different biometric solutions to manage their citizens and increase levels of digitization of societal services. Authentication, identification and verification of people are just a few of the multiple use cases for fingerprint authentication.

Here, size certainly matters.

Larger fingerprint sensors, such as the FAP20 which measures 12x17mm, are not only able to identify more unique parts of a fingerprint – but the enrollment process is also much faster and secure. Smaller sensors can decrease the level of security and reliability. “Stitching”, i.e., enrolling your fingerprint up to 15-20 times before a fully approved match is registered, may slightly improve security for such sensors. A larger senor can accomplish the same with just one enrollment.

High-security fingerprint sensors can prevent crimes and fraud in voting systems and ensure accurate social and pensions disbursements. They also provide benefits for applications at national border controls and enable law enforcement to instantly identify individuals using different portable biometric devices.

“We are fully committed to supporting the growth of fingerprint biometric technology for personal identification and authentication. We’re already bringing our secure fingerprint solutions to governments and institutions all over the world,” said Heuman.

“Large capacitive sensors would also require large areas of monocrystalline silicone, which would make them expensive,” he added, explaining that the Active Thermal technology from Next solves this challenge. It makes its sensors using low temperature polysilicon thin film transistor (LOTS TFT), a technology used in display manufacturing.

“Thanks to this technology, we are able to produce several hundred of our sensors from just one TFT glass,” Heuman revealed.

Executing growth strategy

Despite what most of us would call a somewhat shaky beginning of 2023, Heuman is confident in Next’s ability to deliver on its goals for the coming year, with the company executing its strategy at a steady pace.

As of March, Next has already announced a new partnership, aiming to speed up its efforts in China. It has also released news on receiving a minimum recurring delivery request from an India based OEM, it is also a strong signal that Next is indeed a player to rely on.  

This article was originally published in the April edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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