February 21, 2019

The Bad Guys Will Cut Off Your Fingers

Thinkpad Fingerprint Reader on Linux

  • March 27, 2008
  • By Carla Schroder
Linux has always supported Thinkpads pretty well, though the onboard modems and sound are chronic trouble spots. In fact, these days the modem is the sound chip. Two troubles for the price of one! But, as always, Linux coders make these things work despite the best efforts of all those innovative proprietary vendors to thwart them. I have a Lenovo T61 with an integrated fingerprint reader, and finally got around to seeing if I could make it work. Thanks to the fine folks at ThinkWiki.org and Thinkfinger, I had it up and working in no time. ThinkWiki is an essential resource for Linux Thinkpad owners, and don't forget to contribute your own tips and success stories.

A word of warning first: biometrics is all sexy and hawt and touted as the final security solution. Unfortunately, it's not. Perhaps you recall when grocery stores started using fingerprint scanners, and people couldn't get into this new unproven system quickly enough. Why is it they will not trust a lawyer's or accountant's advice, but will blindly trust a retail store with their fingerprints? I remember when Thriftway rolled this out in Seattle some years ago; the Seattle P-I tells the tale:

"The main thing is, it's fast, it's easy, and it's secure," says Paul Kapioski, West Seattle Thriftway owner."..."It takes about one minute to enroll,"...Employees underwent 15 or 20 minutes of training in the system this week."
This could be made into a party game--how many holes can you poke in this "security" scheme in 30 seconds? Ready? Start:
  1. How hard do they work to verify identity when customers sign up the first time?
  2. It's easy to forge a fingerprint
  3. Once it's compromised, how many more fingers can you grow?
  4. What sort of ninjas are storing and protecting the scans?
  5. Overworked, underpaid, undertrained retail clerks are just the people you want on the security front lines
  6. The bad guys will cut off your fingers
I'm sure you can think of more. As a security device it's weak, and it's ineffective against someone swiping your whole laptop. But it's convenient and it's there, so let's make it go.

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