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What is Fingerprint Recognition?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fingerprint recognition is a way of matching fingerprints that is no longer solely used in the realm of forensic fingerprinting. With the ever-increasing sensitivity of technology as well as the need for more secure methods, fingerprint identification has become a staple of modern technological security measures. What was once the realm of pure science fiction is now in common usage, with even personal computers being equipped with fingerprint authentication devices.

Fingerprint technology relies on the concept that no two people have identical fingerprints. A fingerprint is a series of ridges and valleys on the pads of the fingers that are formed while a person is still in utero. Except in the case of severe injury or illness, fingerprints do not change. Fingerprint recognition devices create an image of these unique prints using light or electricity, and compare them with fingerprints that are already on file in a computer or system.

The comparison of a fingerprint sample and fingerprints on file is executed using fingerprint matching software. The computer's resources compare the print given via a fingerprint reader against an already given sample, and try to match the unique points of the fingerprint. Once a certain number of identifying features are matched by the fingerprint software, the fingerprint recognition process is complete and allows a person to access the computer, system or software that was protected using this delicate technology.

Aside from its uses in personal and corporate computing, fingerprint biometrics systems can be used by employers as part of background checks, for law enforcement investigative purposes and in the investigation of missing persons. The technology comes in a variety of sensitivities for a variety of uses. The more sensitive readers are almost always used exclusively for law enforcement purposes, while consumer products are on the lower end of the sensitivity scale. This does not mean, however, that they are any less sophisticated or of lesser quality.

When used for the security of computers or other sensitive data, fingerprint recognition technology is almost always used in conjunction with another form of protection, such as a password. In the event that fingerprint recognition fails or the data for the software becomes corrupted, it is important that people still be able to access their information. As technology evolves, fingerprint recognition will likely continue to become more popular and less costly in the realm of technological security.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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