Millions of older people,manual laborers and cancer sufferers could be unable to use their fingerprints to log in to online bank accounts,Money Mail can reveal.
Banks are investing millions of pounds in fingerprint technology to replace passwords and PINs.
Most already allow customers to log in to their mobile banking app by holding a finger against a sensor on their smart phone.
Others are trialing new credit card and cash machines where,instead of entering a PIN,people use their fingerprint to pay or withdraw money.
But banks may have to rethink these plans after warnings the technology could be fatally flawed.
Delegates representing major banks at a London cyber security conference were told many older people’s fingerprints are too faded for the machines to recognize.
John Daugman,professor of computer vision and pattern recognition at the University of Cambridge,says:’Skin dries with age,especially for older women.
This shrinks the ridge pattern(already quite fine for women,with a spacing of around 0.3 mm),and wrinkles also develop which disrupt the fingerprint pattern.
Fingerprints can’rub off’for bricklayers,stonemasons and other manual laborers—their skin becomes almost shiny.
Gardeners often acquire a lot of scratches on their fingers,and people who work with chemicals,such as cleaners,also suffer erosion of fingerprints.’
Medical professionals have also discovered that some treatments,such as chemotherapy,can cause fingerprints to disappear-sometimes permanently.
Jean Slocombe,a senior nurse at Cancer Research UK,says:’Some chemotherapy drugs can cause hand-foot syndrome,where the skin begins to peel on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
In severe cases,the fingers can peel,and it’s possible this could change a patient’s fingerprints
This should improve once treatment ceases,but severe scarring can alter fingerprints long-term.’
Fingerprints are considered more secure than passwords,because they are difficult to replicate and can’t be written down,told to anyone or guessed.They can’t be forged like a signature,either.
At present,all banks give customers the option of entering a password or PIN to access their money online.
But technology experts have predicted that firms could do away with passwords altogether to reduce the risk of fraud.
If they replace them with fingerprint technology,millions of bank customers could end up locked out of their accounts.
Banks have trialed other security measures,such as facial recognition and iris or retina scanning-but fingerprint technology is often favored,as it is fast and people are more familiar with it.
Nick Dryden,chief executive of technology company Sthaler,says:’Businesses like fingerprint technology because it’s fast-with iris or retinal scanning,people have to remove their glasses and line up properly,so it can take too long.
But it’s not reliable enough to be rolled out as a primary way of paying for things or logging in to accounts,because there are loads of ways you can lose or damage your prints.
There must always be a back-up so that if it doesn’t work,there is another way of paying,such as with a PIN or password.’
Dryden adds that using the veins in someone’s fingers to identify them is more secure and means people with faded prints will not be left behind as technology advances.