Plastic Prints

Researchers at South Korea's Kyung Hee University have developed a technique for creating microscopic, randomly-generated wrinkles on the surfaces of plastic particles. Each set of these wrinkles is entirely unique, and can be used to create security keys that are impervious to duplication. The process is also cheaper and easier than laser etching.

Wook Park, a member of the team who created the technique, told New Scientist that it would be almost impossible to clone security keys made with this method. This high level of security arises from the process itself, which involves coating the particles in silica, soaking them in ethanol, and drying them. The drying process causes wrinkles to form in the silica layer coating the treated particles, which is the source of the fingerprint-like pattern. The drying of the materials itself causes random patterns, but so do other factors such as the presence of dust or other foreign matter in the materials and minuscule temperature irregularities.

Higher Tech Security Measures

Especially when viewed up close, the plastic wrinkles bear a notable resemblance to human fingerprints — and the resemblance is more than superficial. These synthetic prints may one day be able to replace actual human fingerprints or identity cards because each set is completely unique, and can, therefore, be reliably used to verify a person’s identity. The “fingerprint” particles could also be attached to valuables for tracking or authentication.

Image Credit: Bae, Bae, Yoon, Park, Kim, Kwon, and Park/Science

Although the print patterns are unique, researchers do have some control over their formation. As part of the technique, the team came up with a way to use light exposure to produce a “decision point,” which is a hardened point in the pattern. The wrinkles either bend, finish, or split at this point. This ability to control some parameters could allow for shared information in a series — for example, a series of keys to a business might have identical portions that open common doors. The team is now working to develop a less bulky conductive scanner that reads the surface for electrical information which might be the most practical option for using the prints in security systems.This development is in line with other advanced personalized identity verification technologies that are moving beyond fingerprints. For example, researchers have found that people can create and maybe one day use, for security purposes, a unique signature, a brainprint. Lip reading computers are also on the horizon, and they will combine the security of a password with the additional unique distinguishing traits of physical movements. As we face increasing cybersecurity threats moving forward, technologies like these will develop to help us stay safe.

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