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MSU researchers break ground in fingerprint technology

September 12, 2011

People who alter their fingerprints to avoid identification now might be caught red-handed thanks to new technology developed by MSU university distinguished professor of computer science and engineering Anil Jain.

Jain began work on technology with the power to detect fingerprints that have undergone physical alteration more than two years ago with the help of Soweon Yoon, a computer science doctoral student, and another colleague who currently works in the biometrics field in China.

Morpho, one of the largest fingerprint and identification companies in the world, now has licensed the technology developed by Jain and his team.

“Initially, we started with a small amount of funding ­— it was a short-term project to see the feasibility,” Jain said. “Now it is being supported by a much larger grant from the FBI Biometric Center of Excellence.”

Jain declined to comment on the specific amount of the grant.

MSU and Morpho had been discussing the licensing for seven or eight months, and after Morpho conducted some internal testing of its own, a deal was approved two months ago, Jain said.

“It shows that the research group (at MSU) is doing cutting-edge research,” he said. “Of course, it brings more (recognition) to MSU. As the newswire picks up the story, people (will) read MSU’s name.”

The inspiration for the project came from the rising trend of criminals physically altering their prints to avoid identification, he said.

“Because of (the) increasing use of fingerprints at (international borders), many individuals who have prior criminal records purposefully alter their fingerprints so that they don’t get matched to their prior fingerprints in the databases,” Jain said.

The most common methods to alter fingerprints are either by biting them, cutting down the center of a finger or burning them off — similar to the way Will Smith’s character does in the movie “Men In Black,” he said.

Breaking ground into a largely uncharted area of research came with its share of challenges because there was no prior research to fall back on, Yoon said.

However, developing the brand-new detection technology also has advantages for all parties involved, Yoon said.

“From our perspective, we can produce a lot of new research articles about this,” she said. “From (Morpho’s perspective), they can take the opportunity to start this industry (and implement it) in the field.”

Human biology junior Aaron Rivkin said he believes projects such as this one help garner more respect for MSU on a national level.

“(They help) our prestige a lot,” Rivkin said. “Just like the Cyclotron and the particle accelerator and stuff like that ­— big breakthroughs do a lot for our school’s prestige in science.”

The technology currently only has the power to detect whether or not fingerprints have been altered, and Jain said he is in the beginning stages of trying to create software that will take it a step further and attempt to match an altered fingerprint with the original.

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