Friday, September 19, 2008

Burn Notice "Good Soldier"

Hollywood has always had a love affair with biometrics. They were a mainstay of military, spy, and science fiction movies long before they were included on consumer laptops and door locks.

Because Hollywood got such a jump start on biometrics, most people's expectations have been set by these fictional depictions. In reality, the effectiveness of most biometric systems do not come close to what you see in movies and television.

An unfortunate side effect of this is that corporations have spent millions of dollars promoting and implementing these ineffective systems and, more discouragingly, governments have based public policy on these Hollywood induced misconceptions.

If you remember back to the Burn Notice pilot, the protagonist--black listed spy Michael Weston--opens a biometric safe with a print he lifted off of its finger print reader.

This episode shows an attack against another biometric security mechanism, this time a facial recognition system that is designed to generate an alert when an unauthorized person enters a room.

Earlier this year, the Japanese government introduced regulation that allows for the prosecution of vending machine companies that sell cigarettes to persons under the age of 20.

Long before facial recognition became fashionable, 41 states and the District of Columbia implemented policies that restricted the sales of cigarettes through vending machines, in some cases these policy resulted in a complete ban on the practice.

These policies were implemented based on years of research that suggested that younger children where more likely to obtain cigarettes from vending machine than any other source, including friends and family. Additionally, subsequent research data has shown that a complete ban on cigarette machines in places frequented by young children is significantly more effective than alternatives such as device locks.

So why did the Japanese government choose not to ban vending machines? While I am no expert in Japanese politics, I suspect that a vending machine company named Fujitaka convinced the regulating body that they could accurately judge the age of a purchaser by using biometrics--at least 90% of the time.

What Fujitaka and the Japanese regulators soon found out was that a 3-inch magazine photo placed in front of the camera would fool the system into selling cigarette to underage kids. Oops.

This is exactly what Michael Weston does to gain entry to the hotel room of his sexy nemesis Carla. Armed with a 8x10 head shot of the room service guy, he easily gains entry into the room without setting off the alarm. Sound familiar? You can thank a bunch of Japanese school girls for this one.