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Security Technology

Ears Might Be Better Than Fingerprints For ID 135

An anonymous reader writes "A new study says that outer ear could be better unique identification mark in human beings than finger prints. 'When you're born your ear is fully formed. The lobe descends a little, but overall it stays the same. It's a great way to identify people,' said Mark Nixon, a computer scientist at the University of Southampton and leader of the research. Nixon and his team presented a paper at the IEEE Fourth International Conference on Biometrics and using an algorithm identified people with 99.6 per cent accuracy." An anonymous reader adds a link to Wired's story on the same conference presentation, which adds this skeptical note: "'I have seen no scientific proof that the ear doesn’t change significantly over time. People tend to believe notions like these, and they are repeated over time,' said Anil Jain, a computer scientist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study. 'Fingerprinting has a history of 100 years showing that it works, unless you destroy your fingerprints or work in an industry that gives you calluses.'"
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Ears Might Be Better Than Fingerprints For ID

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  • earprints (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bai jie ( 653604 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @01:33PM (#34223360)
    Yeah but how often do you leave earprints at the scene of a crime?
    • by dogsbreath ( 730413 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @01:53PM (#34223538)

      ... when you listen to the tumblers on a safe!

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Oh, come on. Even a hundred years ago, criminals used stethoscopes for that.

      • I know it was a joke, so this is for the benefit of the mod who thought it was insightful:

        1. Safes don't have tumblers (unless they're keyed safes, in which case you don't need to listen for anything).
        2. Putting your ear against a safe is a terrible way to hear the wheel packs through mostly solid steel.
        3. Safecrackers rely on feel more than hearing.

        • Yup... it's always dangerous to try to be funny. The correcting comments, however, are often informative. Thanks!

          BTW: I will bracket my silly and inaccurate comments with [JOKE][END JOKE] to provide more clarity.


          • Yup... it's always dangerous to try to be funny. The correcting comments, however, are often informative. Thanks!

            BTW: I will bracket my silly and inaccurate comments with [JOKE][END JOKE] to provide more clarity.


            That'll likely get you a +1 Informative.

    • I'm still LMAO - that's a GREAT point.
    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      Think of all the false positives if you drop your ear necklace.

    • This is not for identifying prints at crime scenes. Rather, for IDing all those gazillions of terrorist folks who waltz into the US as tourists every day. So add pictures of your ears to the thumbprints and facial photos that are taken when you go through customs.

      "I'm sorry, sir, but we cannot take a picture of your ears in this condition. Here's a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a box of Q-tips. Please clean them up, before we can let you into the "Land of the Free" . . . of ear wax.

      "Um, sorry to bot

    • I'd imagine it would solve a signification portion of all those unsolved damsel-tied-to-train-tracks cases.

    • When you forget one of your ears at the crime-scene but if you forget both of them they can't do anything.
      • Sir, we've found your ear at the scene of the crime.
        That's not my ear.
        How can you prove it?
        I had a pencil behind mine.
    • how often do you leave earprints at the scene of a crime?

      You know the joke of the blonde with a burned ear? The phone rang when she was ironing her clothes.

    • And don't forget Toulouse-Lautrec!

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        No Time Toulouse!

        I mean... no time FOR Toulouse. But save the Monty Python reference for when they discover that no two pairs of legs match.

    • Yeah but how often do you leave earprints at the scene of a crime?

      Never. I keep my earmuffs right next to my gloves and crowbar, in my burglary man-purse.

    • Not relevant.
    • by Vexor ( 947598 )
      Ears might not change on their own, but I'm sure we've all seen plenty of people who have 0 gauge piercings which I'm fairly certain counts as a change. In a more direct response to the parent: Now when you go on your crime spree you'll just need to wear gloves and earmuffs. Duh.
      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        Actually ears DO change, at least in size. Bone doesn't grow after adulthood, but cartilige does, which is why geezers all seem to have big ears and noses.

    • I don’t think this technique will make it to CSI.
  • There is no easy way to hide your ear, and those prints get everywhere.
  • So I guess the Ferengi have made first contact with us poor terrans and have begun influencing our culture...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Sponge Bath ( 413667 )

      begun influencing our culture...

      Yes, the two cultures have become earily similar.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Influencing? Dude, they've taken over. You see all thoue neckties? They're ALL Ferengi. The necktie was invented on Ferengenar.

  • Seems silly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @01:37PM (#34223396)

    I mean no biometric ID is ever likely to be 100%. What you are just changes over time so even if we could measure it perfectly, there has to be fudge factor built in. Then there are situations like wins and so on.

    However, that's ok, it doesn't need to be perfect. Biometrics shouldn't be security on its own, it should be in tandem with a passcode and/or a key or the like. The idea isn't that any of it is perfect, of course not, just that trying to successfully break more than one is really hard. Like if a door just has a passcode, well then what someone has to do is find out a legit passcode and use it. Not too hard in theory at least. However if that passcode is tied to a fingerprint, well then that is a problem. Even if it is only 99% accurate that means you have to find the 1 person in 100 that will work with that particular passcode. That is near impossible.

    The big problem with biometrics at this point doesn't really seem to be accuracy but spoofing. Now that isn't as large a problem as it may seem since it isn't like getting a fingerprint from someone and making a replica is the easiest thing in the world, but it is a much bigger problem than accuracy. So unless this method is much harder to spoof, I don't really see how it matters that much.

    • Now that isn't as large a problem as it may seem since it isn't like getting a fingerprint from someone and making a replica is the easiest thing in the world,

      How many of your fingerprints exist on your laptop right now?
      How difficult can it be to lift those well enough to get past the cheapest bid fingerpring scanner on the laptop? (I picked on laptops because that is where I'm always seeing the fingerprint swipe used. Right past the full disk encryption.

  • by cosm ( 1072588 ) <> on Sunday November 14, 2010 @01:39PM (#34223424)
    Genitalia Biometrics. TSA would be hitting two birds with one stone. Once they make sure there are no bombs around your pecker (or peckette), they match your pecker against a database of peckerheads. Genitalia are not known to change over time (except my wife's), so they would probably need an If IsWife() { RaiseToleranceThreshold(); }; to prevent false positives (but not HIV positives, still need condoms for that).
  • If you want to identify a user for a locked system, is an ear going to be harder to fake than a fingerprint?

    If you want to identify the perpetrator of a break-in, is an ear likely to be an identifiable leave-behind?

    I don't understand who they are proposing would find significant advantage to this.

    • by Fuzzums ( 250400 )

      Enter the Mythbusters...

    • by Eskarel ( 565631 )

      Well, given how amazingly easy fingerprint scanners are to fool(at least the ones mere mortals have access to), it couldn't really be a whole lot worse than fingerprints for a locked system.

      That said, despite the obsession with using biometrics to provide some sort of security magic bullet, they're really substantially less secure than pretty much every other security mechanism we have. They seem to be astoundingly easy to fake, and it's not like you can just go and get another one every couple of months to

  • I beg to differ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 14, 2010 @01:43PM (#34223454)

    Have you ever seen people with jewelry that stretches their ears in a significant ways? What about wrestlers? Some of these peoples ears bare little resemblance to what they did when born. Now granted people can burn their finger tips and do all kinds of other crap as well, but this kind of mutilation is usually intentional as compared to the examples above (yes... I know people can lose fingers to a saw too...)

    • by Fuzzums ( 250400 )

      That is why the government wants you to come by every 6 months for a new set of ear prints, finger prints and phone and financial records.
      That's to keep their we'll-make-damn-sure-there-is-nothing-left-for-you-to-hide-database accurate ;)

    • Ears change even without injury or "body mod" efforts. The quote in the summary dismisses this rather abruptly, but cartiledge continues to grow throughout the human lifetime, so our ears do change in both shape and size over time (as do our noses). Whatever shortcomings fingerprints might have as tokens for identification, they do not have this problem; the patterns remain the same from birth until death, and somewhere around adulthood they also stop changing size. Ears do not.

  • Cauliflower (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cosm ( 1072588 ) <> on Sunday November 14, 2010 @01:44PM (#34223466)
    The martial arts crowd would be pretty immune to unique profiles, their ears [] develop pretty homogeneously with their career.
    • You think that's bad? Try fighting against Mike Tyson! But to be fair, I think Mike Tyson was trying to bring back the Van Gogh style. If TSA is cool with this form of ID, I'm sure that style will come back to bite TSA in the rear.
  • by Xugumad ( 39311 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @01:47PM (#34223492)

    > unless you destroy your fingerprints

    Having inadvertantly taken my fingerprints off one hand at one point (yes, it was VERY painful, thank you), and found (as many others have) that they grow back... can you actually damage them so bad/repeatedly they don't grow back, and still have things like, erm, fingertips?

    • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @02:07PM (#34223628)

      Yes. The basis behind fingerprints is that as long as the regenerating tissue at the bottom of the skin layer remains alive, it will eventually regenerate same prints. However when damage extends to the deepest layers of the skin, the fingerprints are altered permanently. This is achievable via:

      1. Physical trauma. When potential damage extends below the regenerative layer of the skin, your fingerprints end up altered.
      2. Skin grafting: for example after heavy burns to your hands that require skin to be replaced fully. This will change your fingerprints.

      I suspect that trauma that took your fingerprints off was a surface trauma of some sort, that only removed your prints temporarily, as regenerative layer of the skin remained alive.

    • by Ga_101 ( 755815 )
      I don't think that the issue is weather or not they grow back, but more a case of where or not you can damage them to a point where they will not be recognised by the scanning software.
      I know I have picked up a number of scars on my fingers in my line of work which I do not want to result in a 3 hour delay at an airport. Saying that, ears are no better, for I have a chunk out of my left ear from a rugby injury.

      One of these days they will come up with a better method of identification, until then, I think
      • One of these days they will come up with a better method of identification, until then, I think it would be better for all if we could learn to start trusting each other again.

        Printf ('Are you a terrorist?');
        Scanf ("%s", Answer);
        If Answer=='Y' Goto Jail() else Goto Flight();


        It's been more than 10 years since I programmed anything. I'm sure there are syntex errors, give me a break!

    • Extensive scarring might deform them, but the fingerprint structure extends below the upper layers of skin that are removed by normal injury. Wikipedia says that John Dillinger tried to destroy his with acid, and failed completely.

  • why Vincent cut his ear off, he was trying to escape detection ....... :-)
  • No more earmarks!
  • Especially the earlobe...I guess if you're not too concerned about the earlobe the rest of the ear might not change much.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's going to take a really large ink pad to take ear prints.

    • It's going to take a really large ink pad to take ear prints.

      How about ultrasonic holograms?
      I won't hear of it!

      This color clashes with my turban.

  • by OSPolicy ( 1154923 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @01:57PM (#34223564) Homepage

    "Fingerprinting has a history of 100 years showing that it works."

    Fingerprinting has a history of well over 100 years, but what we see is that it works as long as it is not seriously challenged. In its only major rigorous challenge, the 50Kx50k text, substantial problems emerged.

    Keep in mind that fingerprints are never admitted into evidence, never used for identification, never even examined. Never. A finger touches a surface and it leaves a partial copy. An investigator finds it and puts powder (matrix) on it, which creates a visible picture of the copy. It is often not possible to get a good photo of the copy, so someone uses tape or other gear to get an image of the picture of the copy. Then someone photographs the tape containing the image of the picture of the copy. Then a print of the photograph of the tape of the image of the picture of the copy is created. If there are no more steps, which would be unusual, that print is what is actually used for evidence or analysis. Scientifically-minded readers will have already tallied up at least a partial list of the errors introduced at each step of the process.

    And what sort of analysis is done? The best lab in the country, the FBI, uses an analysis process taught by a high school grad who washed out of college after two years. Obviously, other labs do not enjoy such high standards. What standards do they use, you may ask? None. There are no required national standards for fingerprint analysts. There are guidelines that suggest that a high school diploma should be required, but the advisory guidelines bind no one.

    But at least they use a rigorous process with well-defined standards?

    "The International Association for Identification assembled in its 58th annual conference... based on a three-year study by its Standardization Committee, hereby states that no valid basis exists at this time for requiring that a predetermined minimum of friction ridge [fingerprint] characteristcs must be present in two impressions in order to establish positive identification."

    So no, there are no standards, which is a good thing because the relevant international body has determined that there is "no valid basis" for establishing one.

    So now they say that they can get better results by looking at someone's ears? Hm... Well, the good news is that they're probably right. The bad news is that they've got a long way to go before they can say that it's any great accomplishment.

    • You sound like a great defense attorney! Can I have your card, to put in my wallet (just in case!).

    • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @04:05PM (#34224608) Journal

      The drop out, would that be Bill Gates, Dean Kamen, Michel Dell, Larry Elliston, or Steve Jobs?

      Okay, admittedly not all of those guys made it through two full years before washing out of college.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      And yet, fingerprinting has a 100 years history showing it works.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sampas ( 256178 )
      Actually, no, you can't depend on fingerprints for identification in many crime cases. Anyone who's read Ross Anderson's Security Engineering book is familiar with a number of cases in which police said fingerprints are a match when they are not. When police say fingerprints match, it's often only a four or five-point match, which really isn't a match at all. Other departments require an eight-point match or greater. What's a "match" in one jurisdiction isn't even close in another. No one's ever proven that
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by blindseer ( 891256 )

      I've had my fingerprints taken several times in my life. The first time I was in grade school and everyone in class was marched into the "music room" (just another classroom but this one had grade school equivalents of real musical instruments) only to be met by two people in uniform and were were fingerprinted without really telling us why. I found out later that the sheriff was dong this, he was giving the parents the fingerprint cards supposedly as a measure to identify children that were abducted. Ye

  • I swear.....Van Gogh......what do you mean I cant enter because the scan failed
  • Some men's ears elongate tremendously as they age. An earlobe crease can develop indicating cardiac problems. Killer Kowalski bit off Yukon Eric's ear during a Canadian wrestling match. Your witness.
  • I'm all ears to the progress that could happen in this area
  • The French police officer, Alphonse Bertillon (April 24, 1853 - February 13, 1914) was a biometrics researcher who created anthropometry, an identification system based on physical measurements. Anthropometry was the first scientific system used by police to identify criminals.
    ?This was eventually supplanted by fingerprinting, because os inconsistancies in measurement. Using computer- or video-based measurements should help standardize measurements and increase statistical accuracy. Wikipedia article on

    • by DERoss ( 1919496 )
      Bertillon's system made significant use of ear patterns. It was abandoned when someone in Bertillon's own France was almost convicted of a crime committed by someone else who had a very, very similar ear pattern. Yes, modern biometric technology might overcome such problems. However, adjusting for rotation, obliqueness, and sizing between two images of an ear might easily introduce enough distortion to create a false positive or a false negative.
  • The problem with this kind of ID is it's ear today, and gone tomorrow.
  • Back in the early 90's I had a friend who showed me his Federal ID, they had a front and profile photo and made him hold his hair back to expose his ear for the profile shot. He explained that they used the earlobe as an identifying feature since each person's was unique and was a practice they got from the Nazis. So reading this now, almost 20 years later leaves me scratching my head at what seems to be very very very old news. Of course, I did not read the article, and wouldn't be surprised if it were rep

  • Ears may be good for passive video identification. Before long, I might have to start modifying my ears with clay in order to get through airport security.
  • by wernst ( 536414 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @03:00PM (#34224050) Homepage

    I was born with ears that stuck out worse that Prince Charles. I was teased about them all through school.

    In college I had my ears "tucked," which basically made them lay flat against my head. I had generous grandparents.

    Anyway, the point is that to do this, (the following not for the queasy), they slice open your ear, take out the cartilage (which is what forms all the unique bumps and curves of your ear), manually reshape it, stick it back in, and then sew you up.

    Not only did my ears finally not stick out, but they looked totally different than they did before: none of the curves matched, and even my earlobes are a different shape (the bottoms are trimmed a bit and then stitched back to your head.)

    This is not terribly expensive surgery, and while a bit painful, if I were a criminal trying to beat a set of "earprints" somehow left at the scene of a crime, I'd have it done in a second.

  • Hello Mr. PlasticSugeonGuy, Please make my ears look like this photo here. Great, thanks goodbye now. Runs over to bank, yeeess I would like to withdraw 6 million from my savings account. Certainly sir, let me scan your ear first. Ok the ear cheques out, here is your money.
  • You can alter the form of the ear surgically, even so that it matches another person's ear. But you can't fake another person's fingerprint that way, even altering the fingerprint surgically so that it still looks natural afterwards is impossible today.
  • What, so now I'll have to lean over and drag my EAR across that infernal thing on my laptop?

  • My youngest daughter had pointed ears when she was born (as in Elf/Spock pointy). That went away over a few months. There's still the slightest suggestion of it (she is seven, now), but it definitely did change from what she was born with.

  • Without reading TFA, is that even a good accuracy? I always assumed that fingerprint accuracy is better than that. Having 0.4% error rate means that it is only good for identifying customers in commercial surveys. Any security mechanism will need better than that.
  • There is going to be a windfall for makers of Spock Ears.

  • I'm a full time bass player (I play with my fingers, no pick) and my callouses are pretty impressive. Every once and a while I'll get a blister under them and have to bite em off. They're about an 1/8th inch thick and I can see my finger prints just fine. Not sure what the summary is referring to.
  • An MMA figher? A wrestler? A rugby forward?

  • ears are also easier to forge - all you need is a video feed to get the shape info you need, as compared to lifting off fingerprints...
  • When my father was alive we commented on how similar our ears were, right down to the same congenital ripples on the upper edges of our respective right ears. When he died, I inherited his custom-fitted hearing aids, and although I have no need for them, (yet), I put them into my ears just for a lark. They fit me PERFECTLY - no gap, no looseness, no discomfort, and no visible gaps or aberrations in shape.

    So maybe ears aren't as close to being unique as has been suggested.

  • Yeah but how often do you grab your earlobe in a fit of anxiety and pull it down, thereby stretching it beyond its length and changing it over a few years to be longer then it should, also, what about those piercings that make huge holes, that does not seem to keep its original form!!!

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.