Pop Cultural Identity Management – Alien: Resurrection

Alien Resurrection PosterAs I mentioned in the introductory post for this blog, everyone has their favorite representation (or misrepresentation) of biometrics in the media. Mine is from the Joss Whedon penned, Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed 1997 sci-fi action thriller Alien:Resurrection.

As Ken Gantt said in his opening keynote at last year’s Biometric Consortium Conference in Tampa, Florida, this fourth official entry in the Alien movie franchise marks the very first occasion that breath-based biometrics were featured in a movie. Though it’s an intriguing (and comical) idea in terms of biometric physical access control, I don’t particularly love it so much in terms of it provoking a reaction of “Wowee! what a crazy future we have in store,” but more as a cautionary tale of the importance of liveness detection.

A cautionary tale of anti-spoofing

Here is the movie’s trailer:

The film takes place around the year 2379 according to the math done by fans of the Alien mythology and centers around a government project to build a clone of the titular iconic killing machine from outer space, presumably for purposes of warfare. They retrieve the requisite DNA from the 200 years dead body of franchise heroine Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and in a vast misunderstanding of what genetic science is capable of bring her back as well as the monster.

In order to breed enough aliens for their misguided purposes, the military has a crew of space pirates smuggle them living humans (for those unfamiliar with these movies, the monsters need living hosts for their gestation process). The pirates live on the military spaceship as the nefarious experiments are being undergone, and very soon everything goes to hell.

Though there are too many factors at work to say that everyone would have lived happily ever after if the military had invested in a better access control system, the sadly inadequate breath print recognition solution featured in this horror story certainly didn’t do its job in protecting the military’s mission critical areas.

What Have We Got To Lose?

To review the situations high stakes: the military needs to keep four things separated from each other. In one room, they have a queen alien, in another they have her offspring, on another floor there are the poor souls that will be used as breeding stock and finally somewhere remote in a holding cell is the woman who is exclusively known for killing all of those expensive military assets. If the system in place to protect any one of those areas is compromised then it’s game over for the military.

To make things worse, there are professional pirates walking the corridors of the ship, who have already proven savvy enough to smuggle weapons aboard undetected.

The Security Solution

Perez Breathprint

General Perez is asked to resubmit his breathprint after a false rejection. Pretty inconvenient for a contactless biometric solution.

We only get two glimpses of the breathprint terminals, but it is enough to be able to describe them in modern terms of strong authentication technology. It is a two-factor solution that requires a four to six digit PIN to be entered followed by a positive match on a breath biometric. At least three attempts are allowed in submitting the breathprint and it offers absolutely nothing in terms of anti-spoofing.

First introduced as General Perez, the commanding officer of the ship played by Dan Hedaya, is laying down some expository dialogue before gazing at the alien queen. Stopping outside the sealed viewing chamber. He enters a six digit PIN and breaths directly onto a spherical sensor above the wall-mounted number pad. He is given a false rejection and is forced to embarrassingly resubmit his breath.

The second time we see this type of security is when Call, an android that works with the pirates played by Winona Ryder, easily spoofs her way past a terminal by entering a PIN and spraying the sensor with some sort of scented substance. After only three attempts at doing this she is granted access to the priceless military asset that is the cloned Ripley, who she intends to kill (and only doesn’t because the prisoner intimidates her).

What We Can Learn From The Resulting Carnage

Liveness detection is incredibly important in all biometric deployments, but especially in physical access control. The deployment in the military spaceship must at least boast the highest level of security considering how inconvenient it is to use (a 50 percent false rejection rate and PIN entry? wake me up when you successfully authenticate), and yet it seems almost as easy to fool as it is to use properly.

As silly as it might seem, this example in Alien: Resurrection does highlight an important caution in the development of biometric technology. Thankfully for the lethal alien harvesting shady military groups of our own future, there are currently consortia around the globe constantly working on anti-spoofing innovations and we already have better and more convenient biometric physical access control solutions available right now.

Have an example of biometrics in the media that you would like to see featured on this blog? Contact Peter B. Counter through the findBIOMETRICS About Us page and send him an email with “PCIM Topic” in the subject heading.

Have more to say about breath biometrics in Alien: Resurrection? Keep the conversation going with findBIOMETRICS on Twitter.

April 25, 2014 – by Peter B. Counter