Keeping the Deus out of the Machina

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Keeping the Deus out of the Machina

There is a tendency in today’s world to substitute technology for common sense, and assume that technology with which we are not familiar is better – or more reliable – than technology with which we are familiar. This can lead to potential difficulty.

A case in point: A man had been jailed for rape. While he was still incarcerated, there was a second rape in the same neighborhood, and the DNA of the semen on the second victim matched the semen of the jailed rapist. When I say matched, I don’t meant it was a close match: It was a perfect match! As you might imagine, this threw everyone into a tizzy until one of the brighter bulbs in the investigative chandelier realized that it was easier to smuggle out a semen sample and fake a rape than to find two sets of perfectly matching DNA.

In a second case, reported by both Cryptogram and Informed Sources, Tsutomu Matsumoto, a Japanese cryptographer, used gelatin to make a finger. He was able to lift a fingerprint using one of the superglues, copied it using a video camera, cleaned the image up with Photoshop, and made a transparency, from which he etched a copper plate, which he used to put the fingerprint on the fake finger. He was reportedly able to fool eleven commercially available fingerprint readers about 80% of the time.

We have spoken with people who wanted to go from magnetic stripe devices to smart card devices, primarily because they had stripe readers and writers, and knew their limitations, but didn’t have smart card writers (and didn’t really understand the technology), and so assumed they were “better.” In fact, smart cards can store a lot of data, and can do many things very well, but no device is perfect.

On a silly note, some of our readers apparently use home e-mail addresses shared with their children, and have services which screen email to make sure that anything which arrives is fit for young eyes. We understand and sympathize with this parental concern. To our amusement, however, the well-intentioned content screener at bounced an issue of the e- Journal because it had an article dealing with airline security, and included the word “cockpit!”

When looking at better technology, it is very important that before becoming too enthusiastic you determine what you mean by better, and, also, that you determine how this better security measure can be circumvented or fail.

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