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Crime in Hong Kong

Hong Kong lender banking on finger veins being better than faces for ATM security

Bank of China Hong Kong has already extended finger vein identification to a third of its cash machines in the city

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 7:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 7:50pm

Bosses at Bank of China Hong Kong said on Tuesday they expected to bring finger vein identification to all of the company’s ATMs across the city, claiming the feature to be more secure than facial recognition.

The bank – the first to use the new technology in the city – had already extended it to a third of its cash machines by last month.

“Facial recognition can be affected by shape, light and other environmental factors. It fails sometimes,” deputy general manager of the bank’s e-finance centre, Wang Lan, said.

“But finger veins can’t be duplicated. The success rate is much higher than facial recognition. It is reliable.”

The new kind of authentication allows the ATM’s near-infrared LED to identify customers from vein patterns in fingers, which are unique to each person.

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Customers would need to register once, scanning two fingers at a counter, to use the service. After that they could use their finger instead of giving a signature at the counter or entering a password at an ATM.

Wang said that as well as being tough to forge, the vein patterns are not altered by sweat, stains or peeling on fingers.

The bank first tested the new feature at front desks in late 2016 and at two ATMs last July. The service was gradually extended to all branches and 160 ATMs in December.

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Wang said about 10,000 customers had registered to use the new verification system and that he hoped more would try it, as the bank would gradually extend the feature to all of its 400 cash machines in the long run.

But he said more traditional security methods would still be available.

“We [just] gave an extra security option to customers. They can still choose to use the six-digit password,” he said.

The innovation comes at a time of heightened security regarding cash in the city and the region.

A fast-paced programme to install facial recognition technology across the ATM network in neighbouring Macau has been largely completed. That change was made in a bid to tackle illicit capital flight from mainland China via so-called money withdrawal gangs using several cards – belonging to different people – during each ATM visit.

There is substantial evidence that that move shifted the problem to Hong Kong, where people can legally withdraw cash using cards belonging to others. The Post last week reported that local banks had been hit by an unprecedented HK$20 billion-a-month surge in suspicious ATM withdrawals.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) insisted that it had no plans “at present” to bring facial recognition to the city. But this week the authority appeared to shift its position slightly, saying it was in “close” touch with the Macau authorities over the facial recognition technology programme there.

An HKMA spokesman said: “We are in close touch with the Macau authorities on their experiences in the use of facial recognition technology in ATM cash withdrawal. We are still assessing the effectiveness and reliability of such technology.”

But he said that there was currently still “no plan to introduce such technology in Hong Kong”.

Additional reporting by Niall Fraser