Though the idea of hacked fingerprints conjures up troubling scenarios gleaned from Hollywood’s panoply of espionage capers, not much is currently known about those that OPM said were swiped in the data breach, which began last year and has been privately linked by officials to China. In fact, the agency said it didn’t even know yet specifically which personnel have had their prints compromised.
The linked article is really good in that it spends a great deal of analysis of the unknowns, and there are many.
While a collection of images of the fingerprints of US government employees — if that is an accurate description of that was taken — certainly has its uses, not all potential uses are equal or equally likely.
In terms of identity fraud, the 1.1 million government employees who had their fingerprints stolen may not be a whole lot worse off than the 20 million or so other government employees who had their personal information stolen minus the fingerprints, though that is cold comfort indeed to the victims. If the individuals whose information was stolen are given the precise details of the personal information that is now “out there” they will be able to make informed decisions about how they wish to manage their affairs going forward. That includes how they might interact with biometric ID management technologies in the future both in and outside of government applications.
The intelligence value of the fingerprints of government employees is different story. With time, money, and pictures of a million fingerprints, it is possible to build a fingerprint watch-list. Probably, not all of the pictures of fingerprints will be of a high enough quality to be enrolled in an automated system today but more time and more money could help. From there, the new watch-list could be accessed by a new or existing biometric ID technology deployment such as a checkpoint serving whatever purposes its owner has for it.
There is probably a lot the government still doesn’t know about what was stolen, and even more that hasn’t been shared with the public and more importantly with the individuals whose information has been compromised. It will also take some time for the stolen information to be put to use. The Office of Personnel Management has a lot of work ahead of it.