Security researcher cautions against striking Japan’s favorite picture pose

Image: Pakutaso

TOKYO —

Japan has always loved photography, even back when taking a picture meant fiddling with switches and dials. That sentiment has only intensified now that just about everyone over the age of 15 is walking around with a smartphone that can be used to swiftly snap a pic and share it with friends online.

As such, no gathering of classmates or coworkers is complete without a commemorative photo. Even solo achievements, like finding a really tasty crepe or getting a stylish new haircut, often call for a celebratory selfie, usually while smiling for the camera and holding up two fingers to make a peace sign.

Isao Echizen, a professor at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics, has no problem with the selfie phenomenon. However, if you’re using one hand to take the picture, he says it’s wise to keep the fingertips of the other out of frame. That’s because consumer camera technology and image quality has now progressed to the level, Echizen says, where your fingerprint data can be derived from a photo of your fingertips.

In an experiment, Echizen was able to obtain fingerprint data from photos taken as much as three meters away from the subject’s exposed fingertips. That’s a distance far greater than even the tallest person’s arm, and so the results suggest that if you’re taking a selfie while giving a peace sign with your off-hand, you’re putting your fingerprint data at risk.

Echizen goes on to say that celebrities, because of the large stockpile of photos of them in festive situations, are at the greatest risk, but even many non-famous people use their fingerprint to lock their smartphones or for security measures in the office. And as Echizen points out, once your data has been compromised, there’s not much you can do about it. If someone hacks your password, you can change it, but you’re pretty much stuck with the fingerprints you were born with.

Source: IT Media/Sankei Shimbun

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  • 12

    SimondB

    At the last Melbourne Cup a woman who won big got her photo taken holding the winning ticket and immediately posted it online. Someone zoomed in on the code bar, printed it off and shot down to the local TAB outlet, scanned it and walked away with her winnings.

  • 10

    JonathanJo

    I'd hold my hand up the other way round.

  • 10

    Speed

    I hope this cuts down on the peace sign for every picture by Japanese.

    I enjoy looking at pre-80s pictures of my Japanese family when no one was "peacing" in them.

  • 5

    theFu

    Biometrics used for access control is a terrible idea. I'd rather be beaten by a rubber hose to give up my password than have a finger or 2 cut off.

  • 3

    Aly Rustom

    I'd hold my hand up the other way round.

    One finger should suffice.

    I hope this cuts down on the peace sign for every picture by Japanese. I enjoy looking at pre-80s pictures of my Japanese family when no one was "peacing" in them.

    Amen

  • 3

    Hawkeye

    The peace sign everyone does is a stupud and childish gesture. Japan please stop and yes if you dont we will get you finger prints unless you buy my new finger cover product that you slip on you fingers prior to taking your photographs.

  • 2

    ListenTheTruth

    @JohnathanJo: Don’t do that if you visit the UK.

  • 1

    RealityofFake

    This article makes at a good point. But at this point, the peace sign has become so ingrained in how the Japanese take photos that I think it would be hard to get people to stop. Maybe celebs might stop because they are arguably the most at risk, as I imagine a lot of people would be interested in stealing their private info. But the average person realistically probably doesn't have to worry as much about people wanting their fingerprints.

  • 1

    gogogo

    Hard to believe this but what do I know :)

  • 1

    BertieWooster

    So many Japanese people when you ask what the "two finger salute" means, answer, "peace." If it were peace, it would be the letter P. As is it, it's a V - for VICTORY. The sign American soldiers made on the day Japan surrendered.

    Like MsDelicious above, I refuse to be in any picture where they are flicking Vs!

  • 1

    Mocheake

    This is Japan. Everyone will go 'haaaaa' when you tell them that information but they won't believe it or heed your advice. Most of us Westerners don't have to worry about that as a good percentage of us hate that pose anyway.

  • 1

    SaikoPhysco

    Worldwide, it is mainly the Japanese which are commonly known to flash the "Peace" when photographed. Add that to an Asian looking person doing it and presto.... a nice juicy Japanese tourist just ready to be ripped off. That is the Security Risk.

  • 0

  • 0

    Thunderbird2

    It would need to be a very, VERY HIGH resolution photo to make out the swirls and ridges on finger tips.

    I'd hold my hand up the other way round.

    That's rude where I come from lol

    I refuse to be in any picture where the peace sign is being done.

    Grump

  • 0

    gonemad

    Today it's fingerprints, tomorrow it will be iris scans...

  • 0

    smithinjapan

    Aly Rustom: "One finger should suffice."

    Nah, I like the British way better -- more fun, and longer history. But yes, equally if not more effective.

    Strangerland: "The fact that adults do it shows that it's not a childish gesture."

    So, adults are incapable of being childish in your mind?

    I don't think it's stupid OR necessarily childish, but if you think adults don't act like children sometimes...

    I thought the article was going to be about identifying the people having their photo(s) taken as Japanese by flashing the peace sign, and that that may be a danger if they are traveling overseas and people are looking for targets to pick-pocket or something, since Japanese are known to carry large amount of cash. The finger printing thing is even scarier, although the idea I thought was going to be argued is perhaps a more practical means of caution at the moment (well, actually, adults might have a lot to lose by their fingerprints getting out there, but it IS actually more children that do it).

    I think there are more seriously open problems to worry about first, though. One of my good friends has a key-chain with the apartment complex name on it (one of the dumbest promotional ideas ever!) and he keeps a sticker of his apartment number on his key! I laugh every time, and he says in his case he honestly doesn't care, and has nothing to steal, and thinks the key chain is quite funny (he realizes it, though).

  • 0

    sf2k

    1) don't use fingerprints because they can't change

    2) make a filter to scrub the fingertips in photos of prints without compromising the photo

    3) use the swearing version with the back of the hand ;)

  • 0

    Cliffy

    Blur it making it looks like giving people finger :)

  • 0

    gogogo

    Wear gloves :)

  • 0

    Thunderbird2

    I still want to see one of those cameras which has such a high megapixel amount that you can make out every swirl on a person's fingers from 10 feet away.

  • 0

    RichardPearce

    @ Thunderbird and other doubters, while the fingerprint may not be visible to the naked eye, it can be dug out of the digital information. Your eyes won't see the one bit difference between the values of the pixels, but a computer program can, and then construct an image of the invisible to the eye fingerprint that can be printed and used to unlock the phone.

  • 0

    SaikoPhysco

    Digital Zoom is crap unless you have a camera with very high megapixel capability. Best option is camera with high optical zoom capability and a high megapixel sensor.

  • -1

    MsDelicious

    I refuse to be in any picture where the peace sign is being done.

  • -1

    turbotsat

    Sony used to make a camcorder with 900x digital zoom. Maybe they still do. "3 meters away" without zoom and resolution info doesn't seem specific enough.

  • -2

    Strangerland

    The peace sign everyone does is a stupud and childish gesture.

    The fact that adults do it shows that it's not a childish gesture.

    And pray tell, what makes it inherently stupud [sic]?

  • -3

    sensei258

    Not sure it would matter, unless they knew who you were and had access to your accounts and devices

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