Participants attend the annual Chaos Communication Congress on December 28, 2013 in Hamburg, Germany. A strong topic of discussion this year is the role of anti-terror surveillance and saturated data collection by the NSA. The annual congress, organized b / Patrick Lux/Getty Images

New hack could leave phones such as the iPhone vulnerable to attack

New techniques could allow hackers to copy fingerprints using only a photograph.

Fingerprint technology is hoped to be one of a range of new forms of biometric security, but the discovery by a member of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) shows that even personal biological data might not be safe from hackers.

Jan Krissler, who is also known as starbug, said that he had used commercially available photographs of German defence minister Usula von der Leyen.

While hackers have previously been able to copy fingerprints from any object with a polished surface, like a plate of glass or a smartphone,  that had been touched, the discovery seems to mark the first time such a hack has been done without even needing to steal objects carrying the data.

The German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen


He demonstrated the technology at a convention for members of the CCC, a 31-year-old network that claims to be Europe’s largest association of hackers.

Krissler took the photos from a press conference in Germany in October. He said that he presumed politicians would wear gloves to stop use of similar technology by malicious hackers.

Fingerprint technology is already used to secure Apple and Samsung phones. It avoids the need for a password in most cases — making logging in much quicker and easier, but also giving anyone with the correct fingerprint the ability to access personal data and make purchases.

The technology was even used to identify voters in Brazil’s most recent elections.

Similar technology that recognises finger veins has been introduced by Barclays for business customers and at cash machines in Japan and Poland.