Identity Management

The fight against biometric spoofing

man holding glass eye

Efforts are ongoing to develop countermeasures against spoofed biometric identifiers. (Stock image)

A European Union-funded research group received new funding to set up standards and develop countermeasures to fend off spoofed biometric identifiers such as faked fingerprints and bogus facial recognition scans that could plague ID systems in the coming years.

The European Union-funded Tabula Rasa Consortium said in mid-October that the in its most recent round of funding, the EU had invested $6 million in the project. News reports also say the U.S. is providing $2.2 million.

According to coordinator Sebastien Marcel, the research project has made an extensive list of possible spoofing attacks, evaluated the vulnerability of biometric systems to such attacks, and developed more complex countermeasures that can detect signs of "liveness" in biometric identifiers. Tabula Rasa has already transferred five of the countermeasures to companies in the EU.

Many biometric ID spoofing techniques use everyday materials such as make-up, photographs and voice recordings to subvert or directly attack biometric identification systems. Fingerprint, voice and facial recognition are seen as the gold standards for emerging secure identification technologies. But they are not foolproof.

Apple's recently-launched iPhone 5S comes equipped with a fingerprint scanner that secures access to the device for its owner. Within days of the launch, Chaos Computer Club in Germany said it had been able to hack the iPhone's security by building a three dimensional replica of the owner's fingerprint using high definition photo copies, thin latex sheets and thickly applied toner.

Tabula Rasa, according to Marcel, is made up of a dozen organizations across seven countries that have worked for three years to find vulnerabilities in biometric ID systems and begin developing countermeasures.

The group sponsored a "Spoofing Challenge" in which researchers developed innovative attack plans to deceive various biometric systems. During the contest, one participant fooled a facial recognition system with a photograph Another used simulated fingerprints to fool systems.

Marcel said the project aims to develop a draft of standards to evaluate the effectiveness of direct attacks on biometric identifiers. The project will also develop two lines of countermeasures --  a single system that combines multiple biometric methods and a system that uses more complex biometric measurements, including the way someone walks, vein identification or unique electro-physiological signals, such as heartbeats.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

Rising Stars

Meet 21 early-career leaders who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • SEC Chairman Jay Clayton

    SEC owns up to 2016 breach

    A key database of financial information was breached in 2016, possibly in support of insider trading, said the Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • Image from

    DOD looks to get aggressive about cloud adoption

    Defense leaders and Congress are looking to encourage more aggressive cloud policies and prod reluctant agencies to embrace experimentation and risk-taking.

  • Shutterstock / Pictofigo

    The next big thing in IT procurement

    Steve Kelman talks to the agencies that have embraced tech demos in their acquisition efforts -- and urges others in government to give it a try.

  • broken lock

    DHS bans Kaspersky from federal systems

    The Department of Homeland Security banned the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab’s products from federal agencies in a new binding operational directive.

  • man planning layoffs

    USDA looks to cut CIOs as part of reorg

    The Department of Agriculture is looking to cut down on the number of agency CIOs in the name of efficiency and better communication across mission areas.

  • What's next for agency cyber efforts?

    Ninety days after the Trump administration's executive order, FCW sat down with agency cyber leaders to discuss what’s changing.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group