‘Master prints’ could be used to unlock nearly any phone’s fingerprint sensor

Why it matters to you

Think your smartphone’s fingerprint sensor is secure? It may not be if this research can lead to a physical master print.

Chances are that your smartphone has a fingerprint scanner built into it to help you unlock your device. One advantage to fingerprint scanners is that it makes it faster to unlock handsets than typing a pin number.

However, it’s also more secure because, as we’re constantly reminded about via CSI-style detective shows, all of us have unique fingerprints. As a result, a fingerprint scanner stops someone else unlocking your phone in the way that they could if you knew your passcode.

Right? Well, kind of.

As it turns out, computer scientists at New York University and Michigan State Universtiy have been working on developing digital “master prints.” These are the biometric equivalent of master keys, capable of tricking a variety of fingerprint sensors that trained to recognize your “unique” fingerprints.

“Our work shows that there are these things called ‘masterprints,’ which could be used by an attacker,” Nasir Memon, a computer scientist at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering who co-authored the study, told Digital Trends. “If they had a master print that maximized their probability of success, they may be able to get through a device’s fingerprint system.”

The problem, Memon explained, is that fingerprint sensors tend to be small. Because of this, they match according to partial fingerprints, rather than whole ones. When you register your fingerprint on a new device, it breaks down your single print into a number of smaller squares. This means that, regardless of how your finger is placed on the fingerprint sensor, your mobile device should be able to recognize it.

Aditi Roy, Nasir Memon, and Arun Ross

“When you take a full fingerprint, there’s some amount of uniqueness in it, even if it’s not total,” Memon continued. “The problem is that, as you start taking partial fingerprints, that distinguishability drops. As an analogy, if you think about a face, they’re distinct because two people are unlikely to have the same face. But if you just take a part of the face, the chances of two people having that partial face are higher.”

He said that one impetus for the research had been a previous study into pin codes, which claimed that around four percent of pin codes were simply “1234.” A thief wanting to maximize his or her chances of breaking into a phone should, therefore, start by trying this string of digits.

Memon and colleagues analyzed a database of 800 fingerprints, from which they extracted thousands of partial prints. According to their analysis, a master print — able to emulate a variety of partial fingerprints — could be used to fool a random fingerprint scanner 26 to 65 percent of the time.

As Memon notes, this work is still hypothetical. They did not create physical master prints but rather carried out their work using computer simulations. The idea of a hacker glove, with a different master print on each finger, fortunately, doesn’t exist yet — but it is still a reminder of some of the perils that exist with biometrics.

Peter Moore says farewell to the game biz

Today is Peter Moore’s last day in the game industry. He signed off with a farewell letter and video, stating that he’d had a great time, claiming little credit for the work he’s done these past two decades.

I’ve interviewed lots of game industry execs over the years. Peter Moore was one of the more entertaining. Like most business people who talk to the media, he usually had a script to follow, but unlike most, he was happy to abandon the PR lines when he felt the urge. He seemed to actually enjoy the back-and-forth of interviewing. He’s a keen sports fan and a competitive person, and he brought this to all aspects of his work in the game industry.

I interviewed him maybe half a dozen times. I’d always come away thinking I’d gotten the better of him, but when it was time to listen to the transcript, I was mostly disabused of my confidence. He dodged and weaved, feinted and shadowed.

At industry parties, he’d always come up and say hello. There’d be some banter, a slap on the back, and off he’d go to the next person. Moore was well-liked. In a business where connections matter, he knew how to turn this to his advantage.

In a video he posted on YouTube today, there are lots of photos of him on stage at E3, hawking the newest games and hardware for his various employers: Sega, Microsoft and Electronic Arts.

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He had the pizzazz to bring a little extra to these occasions, which are so often populated by awkward, besuited men staring empty-eyed into a teleprompter. Moore looked like a man who was happy to be on stage. He became something of an icon, even appearing in cartoon form on South Park.

After today, he’s gone, to work as chairman of the soccer team he adores, Liverpool FC. Moore was born in Liverpool, worked as a gym teacher, got a master’s degree in California and then spent some years as an exec for sports show manufacturers. He made the jump to video games in the ’90s, when execs from proper, grown-up industries were much in demand.

In his letter today, Moore praised gaming and the game industry’s creative talents, setting out how he sees his own contribution. “I am crystal clear in understanding that I was merely the front man for your brilliant achievements, the ‘suit’ that sometimes did goofy, cheesy stunts and speeches to draw attention to your phenomenally creative talent.”

Moore was a cheerleader for the companies where he worked. He was often the target for abuse from social media haters, absorbing grief on behalf of companies like Electronic Arts. In his letter today, he urged gamers to be more positive in their interactions. “If a game disappoints, provide constructive feedback, not the vitriol that is unfortunately so prevalent nowadays.”

He also wrote, “I shall miss everything about this industry each day, henceforth.”

Weekly Rewind: Samsung problems, Charlize Theron, ‘PIN’ cracking, and more

A lot can happen in a week when it comes to tech. The constant onslaught of news makes it nigh impossible for mere mortals with real lives to keep track of everything. That’s why we’ve compiled a quick and dirty list of this week’s top 10 tech stories, from everything you need to know about Samsung’s latest hardware problems to a new superfluid — it’s all here.

Some Galaxy S7 owners report the camera lens is shattering without impact

Dozens of Samsung Galaxy S7 owners have reported shattered camera lenses on their phones without any actual impact occurring, potentially indicating a weird flaw in the device. But Samsung tells Digital Trends that the incidents are few and far between, and the company stands behind the quality of the very popular smartphone. As for why the weird incident is happening, nobody knows — and a law firm says it is investigating the issue.

Read the full story here.

ZTE’s Quartz is one of the most affordable Android 2.0 smartwatches yet

ZTE Quartz Watch News

It is safe to say that smartwatches, the once-derided mash-ups of digital guts and analog bodies, have graduated from passing fad to budding business. You need look no further than timepieces like Tag Heuer’s $1,500 Connected 2, Movado’s $700 Bold, and Michael Kors’ $350 Access for evidence that smartwatches aren’t just novelties anymore — they’re functional accessories. And they’re also a market that Chinese smartphone maker ZTE can’t wait to break into. ZTE’s Quartz, which leaked prematurely a few weeks back, is a first step in that direction.

Read the full story here.

Ohmni is a robot that helps make video chatting feel more personal

At one point, nearly everyone leaves their family for an extended amount of time. However, whether moving across the country, studying abroad, or going on an adventure, families will want to stay connected. Typically, people choose to chat over the phone or on video, but OhmniLabs developed something with presence. Ohmni is a home robot that allows families to stay connected more naturally than any typical video call. Even from across the word, users can control the robot and have it travel around the house.

Read the full story here.

Burger King’s new Whopper ad forces Google Home to read you ingredients

Arguably one of the Google Assistant’s best features is the ability to respond hands-free. On Google’s Home speaker and supported smartphones, shouting, “OK Google” wakes Google’s artificial intelligence-powered service in a jiffy. But as Google Assistant users who watched a new ad spot from Burger King recently found out, that convenience can be a curse. The 15-second advertisement features an actor standing next to a television and a Google Home.

Read the full story here.

Robot tutor Musio makes its retail debut in Japan

A cute, robotic language tutor called Musio, has made it from crowdfunding campaign to full-fledged product with a debut in stores this week in Japan. Priced at JPY 98,000 (about US $900), Musio is now sold online through SoftBank’s marketplace and Amazon Japan, and through a handful of brick-and-mortars stores.

Musio’s parent company, AI venture AKA Study, is the latest startup from Raymond Jung, a co-founder of the massively successful test-prep venture, Hackers Education Group, in South Korea. AKA employs about 50 full-time today, with most in Seoul, and a small office in Santa Monica, Calif. Technically, the company is headquartered in the U.S., but it’s not making any consumer electronics for the American market yet.

TechCrunch asked Jung why he considers AKA’s Musio a robot since it is not ambulatory, and doesn’t do any lifting. “We put a motor system in there. If you need a dynamic part, you can add it in the future,” the CEO explained. The company is planning for the next generation of Musio robots to be able to walk or point with their arms and legs.

Today, Musio engages users in small talk, answers their trivia questions in a personable tone, admits when it doesn’t know something and can correct a user’s grammar. The robot works in conjunction with curriculum, including printed books and games, developed by educational publisher Gakken, that are purchased separately or as part of a premium Musio package.

Musio’s face and heart are touchscreens. They show a range of expressions, meant to endear users. The animated eyes and heart are not a feature unique to Musio. Other social robots like EMYS, and ROOBO’s Domgy have animated, emotive eyes. And Aldebaran’s humanoid Pepper robot displays animations on a tablet on its chest, and through its eyes. But users can also use the screens on Musio’s face and heart to navigate different menus.

AI giants like Apple, Amazon, Baidu, Google, IBM and Tencent make plenty of their technology available to developers who want to offer voice control, natural language processing or emotional intelligence as part of their apps or hardware. But AKA is developing a range of proprietary AI engines. These allow the company and its Musio robot to recognize and remember a particular user, build rapport with them over time and reference past conversations.

This kind of machine learning also enables Musio to identify where learners need help advancing their language skills. For example, if Musio recalls that a user previously got questions wrong around a vocabulary module involving dinosaurs, it can suggest a review of that material with a user when they next chat.

Jung explained, “Musio will also answer your questions, but our competitive advantage is conversing with you naturally.” When a user asks Musio a question, its answers sound more like a friend responding than a read-out of a top search result.

Musio is a portable, social robot made by AKA Study.

Jung’s grand vision is to develop Musio, and other AI-powered devices and apps, for use beyond education. For example, Jung envisions Musio evolving into a “companion,” that can help the elderly stay socially connected and live a healthy, independent life. He said there’s great demand for social robots in Japan, which is one reason his company has focused on that market. The CEO also said automotive companies have expressed interest in the company’s MUSE platform to add friendly interactivity to their driver interfaces.

Now that Musio is out in stores, AKA Study also plans to make its proprietary AI engines accessible to other developers who find systems like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa lacking a certain personable quality.

So far, AKA Study has raised $10.7 million in seed and Series A funding. Formation 8 led its Series A round, and SV Angel founder David Lee was the company’s earliest angel investor. Additional firms backing AKA and the Musio brand include Japanese education conglomerate Gakken, LG UPlus, the private equity fund DS in Korea and the co-founders of the gaming company Nexon.

Featured Image: AKA Study

Can podcasting save the world?

As writers resort to attention-getting headlines to maintain readership it’s clear that the educated, mobile, and bored reader is now turning into a listener. While written news continues to flood us from every conceivable angle there is one small, quiet voice still speaking to us from our earbuds: the podcaster speaking truth to power, bullshitting about movies, or spinning long narrative threads about dead men and their gold.

First, let’s all agree that podcasting is getting big. Once the domain of amateur mumblers who spoke at length about laptop specs or chemtrails, podcasting has become big business and listeners are paying attention. I posit that podcasting has become the default method for consuming longform journalism and commentary and that should give writers and journalists pause.

Some numbers: In the past six years podcast listenership has risen 13% from 23% to 36% of Americans aged 12 and up. The number of podcasts hosted on Libsyn rose from 12,000 in 2012 to 28,000 in 2016. WNYC raised $15 million to create a new “podcast division.” A new podcast, one that details the life and times of an eccentric Southern clockmaker, achieved blockbuster status, grabbing 1.8 million subscribers since launch.

Again, these numbers pale in comparison to the budgets of cable TV and Internet. This website alone has 8 million followers on Twitter and does 1.8 million pageviews in a few hours. The written word, however, becomes far less interesting in places where education is valued but the time and concentration necessary to consume longform writing is lacking. A sysadmin I know listens to hundreds of podcasts on his daily walks to and from work. Countless long-distance commuters plug in a podcast for the trip from Circleville to Columbus or Bucks County to Manhattan. Podcasting is the new talk radio and it skews, at least in the categories we can measure, toward the public radio listener.

Spoken word has long been in a doldrum but that is changing. While talk radio appeals to sports fans and baby boomers it never appealed to the long form reader. Podcasts, however, have begun the slow process of replacing the written word. Some of the best non-fiction out there is appearing on shows like This American Life and Serial and it’s clear that on-demand audio, like on-demand video before it, is the “next big thing.”

Now back to my hyperbolic title – can podcasting truly save the world? First, we have to assume that the world wants long form writing on the Internet. I think this is true. We love stories and consuming those stories in audio format is a true treat. It lets us consume long form content without the associated costs of reading, costs that, while minimal, still require time and attention.

Second, we have to assume that podcasts are getting better. The numbers bear this out. While most of Libsyn’s podcasts, I’m assuming, aren’t on par with in-depth analyses like Radiolab or Serial we can assume that at least a few of those podcasts – Hardcore History and A History of the World in 100 Objects spring to mind – have multiple thousands of downloads and are designed for the careful, curious listener.

Therefore we are getting amazing content for free via podcasting and any time that happens someone gets hurt. When blogs started producing acceptably readable facsimiles of newspaper reports they supplanted newspapers. Once websites and forums could review products better than computer magazines the magazines died. Podcasting will change the world by bringing us back to literary non-fiction and encourage contemplative, not consumptive, models of media.

If I were in the betting game I’d say that podcasts will rise in popularity as television and radio wane. News, commentary, and histories work quite well in the podcasting medium. You can easily grab a daily news rundown and listen to it at your leisure just as you can easily download the best of the podcasting world for slow, careful consideration. Whereas television and radio are considered finite resources by the folks who maintain them there can be a podcast for every mind. Why listen to Howard Stern for hours when you can listen to three podcasts that are equally raunchy and, presumably, get more out of the process?

We have no time to read. We do have time to listen to podcasts. Again, if I were in the betting game I would wager that podcasts are only going to get more popular and if I were getting into media I’d learn how to make and sell them. It’s rare that something blossoms so wildly right under our noses. It would help us to pay attention.


Reports surfaced this week offering more details about Microsoft’s upcoming Project Scorpio platform. This new architecture that’ll end up in 2017 Xboxen is likely powerful enough to display 4K games and power a VR headset—capabilities that will help Microsoft gain back some ground in the console wars that Sony has captured with last year’s PSVR. The hosts discuss XBox, PlayStation, HoloLens, Oculus, and where Microsoft can take things from here. In the second half of the show, Paul Sarconi returns to tell us about his time spent with NextVR, the team producing 360-video basketball broadcasts for Gear VR and Daydream.

Some links: Two previous reports on Project Scorpio. The Verge story about the Xbox of the future. Every Hank Scorpio scene from The Simpsons. Jessi Hempel goes hands-on with the HoloLens for WIRED. Read all our virtual reality coverage. Recommendations this week: The CoffeeSock, Midori MD notebooks, and the Retro from Slickwraps.

Send the hosts feedback on their personal Twitter feeds. David Pierce is @pierce and Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab.

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Trump administration says it won’t release White House visitor records

The Trump administration has said it will not be releasing White House visitor records, and the site the Obama administration created to host them, Open.gov, has been officially discontinued. According to Time, White House officials say that the choice stemmed from “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Now, visitor logs will be kept secret until five years after Trump has left office.

Obama started releasing visitor records in 2009, in response to transparency lawsuits. His administration had released around 6 million by the end of 2016, publishing with a three-month delay. But the Trump officials told Time that Obama’s ability to redact records created “more of a facade of transparency rather than complete transparency.” Similar criticism was levied by transparency watchdogs during Obama’s presidency. Nonetheless, visitor logs could be used in investigative reporting about topics like tech industry lobbying.

Open.gov hosted information beyond White House visitor logs, some of which — like staff financial disclosures — must be publicly released. Officials told Time that disclosures, salaries, and appointment information would be “integrated” into WhiteHouse.gov, presumably on individual pages rather than a dedicated site. Officials also boasted that doing so would save $70,000 over the next three and a half years, which is enough to pay for nearly one-tenth of a single Tomahawk missile.

Nintendo is also ending production of Japan’s Famicom Classic

Yesterday, news broke that Nintendo would be discontinuing its miniature NES Classic console. The sad news streak continues today with confirmation that the Japanese version of the NES Classic, the Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer (aka, the Famicon Classic,) will also be ending production.

The Famicom Classic was similar to the NES Classic, offering a lineup of 30 retro games, although it featured a design based off the original Famicom — the Japanese version of Nintendo’s first console before the company redesigned and rebranded it for the US.

Like the NES Classic, though, Nintendo’s statement (as translated by Polygon) does leave some room for the Famicon Mini to return.

This product has ended production for now. When production is being resumed, we will tell you on our website.

For now, though, it looks like any fans still hoping to pick up either version of Nintendo’s diminutive throwback console will be stuck with marked up grey market sellers.

Inside the World's Greatest Scavenger Hunt, Part 1

In the fall of 2015, my teenage daughter Tia crafted a spectacular, life-sized poodle out of feminine hygiene products.

“It’s a tampoodle,” she told me.

She made this, uh, artwork as an audition piece—to showcase her creative skills, as a tryout for an elite team in some kind of national scavenger hunt. (She made the team.)

I thought the tampoodle was cute. I thought it was great fun that Tia was joining some kind of scavenger hunt.

I had no idea what kind of ride was ahead.


When most people think of a scavenger hunt, they probably imagine the list of items includes, you know, “Get the dean’s signature” or “Find a dog with a curly tail.”

GISHWHES is not that.

It stands for the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. (Its creator acknowledges GISHWHES may be the Ugliest Acronym the World Has Ever Seen.)

Teams of 15 have one week to complete about 200 extremely difficult or hilarious tasks. They prove they’ve completed each item by submitting a photo or video of it; their $20 entry fees go to a charity, and the winning team gets a trip to some exotic location with Misha Collins, the hunt’s founder.

Sample items from past GISHWHES lists:

  • • Do a dramatic reading of your grade-school report card.
  • • Find someone you love and butter them up—literally. Cover them in butter and then give them a big hug.
  • • Glaciers are melting—so act accordingly. Pose at a major glacier wearing a swimsuit with floaties.
  • • Have a tea party with a pediatric cancer patient, where you’re dressed as a character from “Alice in Wonderland.”
  • • Tour a sewage treatment plant dressed in formal attire with an accompanying violinist or flutist.
  • • Get a child to write a letter to the universe. Launch the letter into orbit.
  • • Film an erotically charged conversation between a housewife and pizza delivery man. The actors can ONLY talk about grammar and fonts.

What astonished me is what a big deal GISHWHES is. Last year, 55,000 people registered to participate—not including all the friends and family members who lent favors, assistance, and props. (Registration for this year’s hunt opens this week.)

Some participants had to dress up as a prospector and pan for gold in a public fountain. Photo courtesy of David PogueSome participants had to dress up as a prospector and pan for gold in a public fountain. Photo courtesy of David Pogue

Some participants had to dress up as a prospector and pan for gold in a public fountain. Photo courtesy of David Pogue

GISHWHES holds seven Guinness World Records, including Biggest Media Scavenger Hunt, Largest Online Photo Album of Hugs, Longest Chain of Safety Pins, Most Pledges for a Charitable Campaign, and Largest Gathering of People in French Maid Outfits. (Why is there a Guinness record for Largest Gathering of People in French Maid Outfits!?)

But in the end, GISHWHES is an event that does good in the world. Over the years, GISHWHES list items have persuaded players to a) raise over $1 million for charity, b) donate hundreds of thousands of pints of blood, c) volunteer at soup kitchens, d) register thousands of citizens to vote, and e) register to become bone-marrow donors. (That last item has already saved two lives, according to GISHWHES producers.)

And the 2016 hunt raised $250,000 to buy homes for five Syrian refugee families.

So yes, GISHWHES is a do-gooder enterprise. But it’s also brilliantly clever, gut-bustingly funny, and positively unforgettable.

So my question is: Why haven’t people heard of GISHWHES? Why isn’t it a cultural thing?

Why isn’t it, at the very least, a reality show? It’d be the most entertaining show on TV.

Well, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. With the tolerance of my superiors at Yahoo, I decided to make my own darned reality show. Above on this page is Episode 1 of a five-part series.

Misha Collins

View photos

Misha Collins attends the “Supernatural” special video presentation and Q&A on Day 4 of Comic-Con International on Sunday, July 27, 2014, in San Diego. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

GISHWHES was created, and is run to this day, by TV actor Misha Collins, a costar of the CW series “Supernatural.” (His heartthrob status helps explain why GISHWHES participants are predominantly female.)

“I went to the University of Chicago,” he told me. “The University of Chicago has a scavenger hunt that we call Scav, that has been running about 30 years now. It took place over the course of a long weekend. We would completely abandon our academics and our sense of decency for those three days, and go all-out for this scavenger hunt. And I loved it. I actually think that it was one of the most educational aspects of my college experience, and infused with the most joy.”

Years later, after a decade of struggling as an actor in Los Angeles, Collins finally landed a show. “I got on this TV show ‘Supernatural,’ and I developed a little bit of a fandom following, and I started to notice that there was a high level of creative engagement from our fans. That got my wheels turning. What can I do with this? How can I have fun with it?”

Collins’s first side project with his fans was a charity called Random Acts. “We’ve done some pretty big projects. We built an orphanage in Haiti; we’re finishing building a high school in Nicaragua right now. But we also do myriad smaller projects all over the world—as small as bringing roses into a senior citizen home.”

Then, in 2009, as a lark, Collins ran a little scavenger hunt from his Twitter account. About 300 people participated; they were instructed to photograph their submissions and send them to an email address that Collins set up.

“People engaged in it with an enthusiasm and a committedness that I could not’ve anticipated,” he says now. “I remember sitting in my apartment, looking at the submissions that had come in, and thinking, ‘This is amazing!’ The art people were creating, the tasks that I thought were impossible that people were pulling off—! I remember, ‘This is what I wanna do for my life’s work. This is awesome.’”

And so, in 2010, GISHWHES was born.

For the 2016 hunt, I embedded myself with my daughter’s GISHWHES team for the week. I filmed their efforts and followed their frustrations and joys. In the coming episodes, you’ll get to meet them—and you’ll get go to inside world’s biggest scavenger hunt.

More from David Pogue:

The David Pogue Review: Windows 10 Creators Update

Now I get it: Bitcoin

David Pogue tested 47 pill-reminder apps to find the best one

David Pogue’s search for the world’s best air-travel app

The little-known iPhone feature that lets blind people see with their fingers

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email



We finally have proof Apple is working on a self-driving car

Apple may have a car up its sleeve after all.
Apple may have a car up its sleeve after all.

Image: Richard Drew/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Looks like Apple’s finally stepping on the gas. We’ve now got confirmation that Apple’s gearing up to make a big move in the auto industry.

Cupertino’s been granted a permit to test self-driving cars in California, according to DMV records. The permit, first reported by Business Insider, follows months of rumors about Apple’s efforts to build a car.

Apple’s exact plans in the space aren’t yet clear, but as of Friday, April 14th, Apple’s holding a permit to test three self-driving Lexus RX540h SUVs, according to the California DMV. The state requires carmakers and others to apply for permits before they can test self driving vehicles on state roads—remember Uber’s squabble with the DMV over permits late last year?

While Apple was once thought to be working on its own car, there are plenty of people who now believe that the company’s focusing on the software for autonomous vehicles, instead of, say, the iCar, or whatever they’d call it. 

When reached for comment by Business Insider and The Wall Street Journal, Apple directed everyone to a letter it sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last year. In it, the company wrote that it’s “investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation” and is also “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation.” 

In other words: Basically, yeah, we’re getting into the car biz. And now we know how they’re going to start going about doing it. And now California residents also know: If you see a Lexus RX540h SUV with a suspiciously casual looking driver at the wheel, by all means, take out that iPhone, snap away, and for the love of god, get in touch.

WATCH: iPhone 8 rumors include a ‘Smart Connector’ for AR headset