Glasses with colourful patterns have completely confused facial recognition systems in an experiment

Funny specs fool state-of-the-art face recognition systems

Image credit: Carnegie Mellon University

Criminals can avoid being spotted by state-of-the facial recognition systems by wearing simple printed glasses covered with wild colourful patterns.

In a study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, test subjects were able not only to avoid detection but also to pass for someone else with an up to 90 per cent success rate.

Interestingly enough, the individuals who the tested subjects pretended to be in front of the facial recognition systems could look completely different and in no way similar to a human observer.

“For example, they (the glasses) allowed one subject, a white male, to impersonate Milla Jovovich, a white female, 87.87 per cent of the time,” the researchers wrote in a paper ‘Accessorize to a Crime: Real and Stealthy Attacks on State-of-the-Art Face Recognition,’ which has been presented at a conference on Computer and Communications Security. “A South-Asian female (was able) to impersonate a Middle-Eastern male 88 per cent of the time.”

According to New Scientist, the simple home-printed glasses were able to achieve the feat by tricking the neural networks of the facial recognition systems. These networks focus on colour of different pixels and compare the information with other similar images to guess who the individual is.

“If just a small area of the face has been changed, it can completely mess with the attempted recognition – which is why the computer system can confuse two people who in fact look very different,” Timothy Revell, one of the authors of the paper told New Scientist.

The researchers said their experiment proves that neural networks are far less flexible than previously thought and can be tricked by a relatively small adjustment.

While a human observer would be able to reliably tell who is behind the specs, the system is so confused by the extra layer of colourful pixels that it completely misidentifies the person for someone else in the database.

The team said criminals could use the simple trick to either avoid detection by facial detection systems installed in public spaces or even gain unauthorised access to systems protected by biometric identification technology.

The team believes that although the glasses used in the experiment look rather eccentric, they still present a very subtle modification of one’s appearance in order not to raise any suspicion if used in a public space.

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