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The correct fingerprint counts

Method designed to improve the transmission security of sensitive data

Neuro scientists at Bonn University have developed a new process for encoding sensitive data in such a way that only the intended recipient can read them -using, for example, authentication per iris scan or fingerprint. They are presenting their concept, for which a patent has now been applied for, at the Hanover Trade Fair (Pavilion 18, stand AO2) from 19 - 24 April.

The computer screen is covered by "snow" until Oliver Baruth presses his mouseŽs fingerprint sensor with his index finger.  In a split second, the pixels regroup themselves and the image of an Inca mask appears on the monitor.  "An unauthorised eavesdropper would be unable to decode the data", Professor Rolf Eckmiller from the Bonner Institut für Informatik explains. "The fingerprint is the key to visualising the image, and without it the system is useless."

Professor Eckmiller has developed the system in collaboration with his Ph.D. students Oliver Baruth and Dirk Neumann, and is now hoping to find a partner in industry at the Hanover Trade Fair. The system is based on a single software and a single hardware component, each in the form of a small memory card, a so-called "memory stick". "The two cards are programmed according to distinctive biometric user data, such as his iris scan or a fingerprint. One card is  then, for example, inserted into the USB data-transmission interface of his computer, and the other into the USB port of the receiver".

Assisted by information in the memory stick, the software developed by these neuro scientists now generates an individual coding which can only be  broken by the ownerŽs second card - and then only if his biometrical data accord with those used in the programming the two cards. "The programme converts the two commercially available memory sticks into two halves of a single entity", the information scientist explains - it is as if a demanding customer were to have a completely individualised lock made together with a corresponding key. "The programming of the memory cards, in contrast, is simple and  could be done in the shop".

Encoding then turns the image which is to be transmitted into a confused sequence of pixels. "We employ so-called spatiotemporal filters", Dirk Neumann explains. "As a result, the information required for juxtapositioning the picture elements gets lost" and the unauthorised eavesdropper is unable to actually position the pixel which he is just receiving. Without the correspondingly programmed memory sticks this information cannot be reconstructed, we are assured: "The encoding is irreversible. The unique combination of hardware, software and biometrical characteristics produces an extremely high degree of cryptographic security".

The researchers foresee this system being  employed everywhere where the discrete transmission of sensitive information to specific recipients is desired. "Take, for example, a fax machine", says Professor Eckmiller. "Even if the actual message cannot be read by an eavesdropper, there is still the possibility that the fax printout itself might fall into the wrong hands. Using our method, the recipient would have to register per fingerprint or iris scan - otherwise the machine would only spew out double Dutch".

Personal contact:
Professor Dr. Rolf Eckmiller
Institut für Informatik VI der Universität Bonn
Telefon: 0228/73-4422
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