Fingerprint readers open up hacking vulnerabilities, expert says

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Following the global ransomware attack, users should be cautious when using fingerprint authorisation on their phones, a cyber security expert has warned.

Fingerprint readers could lead to more vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit, a cyber security expert has warned. 

Speaking to CNBC, Professor Nasir Memon of New York University Tandon suggested that masterprints can now be used, which can be digitally altered to match the identity of specific users. 

Even though every fingerprint is unique, many smartphones only use small and partial prints, making the sensors easy to trick. The devices also include several prints of different fingers and allow a number of attempts before they lock. 

“If I have this glove or fake hand with these master prints on it then I can unlock say 25, 30, 40 per cent of phones. 

“It's as if I don't have to get in through one window, but 30 windows. Any one of them is left open, I'm in. To a security person, that's a problem,” Mr Memon explained.

Even though the technique carries risk, Mr Memon went on to say that he continues to use a fingerprint on his own smartphone.

“It's so nice that I just pick up a phone, I just put my finger on the start button and boom it unlocks,” he explained, though he advised people to be cautious when using fingerprints for banking and significant financial transactions. 

These comments come after a global cyber attack affected companies across the world earlier this month, including several NHS trusts in the UK.

Ransomware titled WannaCry caused the issue, which led to attacks on companies such as Telefonica, Deutsche Bahn and FedEx among others. 

Cyber attackers threatened to delete files unless a ransom was paid. Effects of the hack continued a week later, with some accident and emergency departments still diverting patients. 

Windows computers that were not updated with the latest security patches were especially vulnerable to the attack, particularly those with Windows XP, which had not received updates since 2014. 

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