How Fingerprint Scanners Work

Computerized fingerprint scanners have been a mainstay of spy thrillers for decades, but up until recently, they were pretty exotic technology in the real world. In the past few years, however, scanners have started popping up all over the place — in police stations, high-security buildings and even on PC keyboards. You can pick up a personal USB fingerprint scanner for less than $100, and just like that, your computer’s guarded by high-tech biometrics. Instead of, or in addition to, a password, you need your distinctive print to gain access.

In this article, we’ll examine the secrets behind this exciting development in law enforcement and identity security. We’ll also see how fingerprint scanner security systems stack up to conventional password and identity card systems, and find out how they can fail.

People have tiny ridges of skin on their fingers because this particular adaptation was extremely advantageous to the ancestors of the human species. 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.

So, in addition to the countless things that go into deciding your genetic make-up in the first place, there are innumerable environmental factors influencing the formation of the fingers. Just like the weather conditions that form clouds or the coastline of a beach, the entire development process is so chaotic that, in the entire course of human history, there is virtually no chance of the same exact pattern forming twice.

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