​Windows 10 face unlock can be tricked using printed headshot

Near-infrared image trickery can allow an attacker to bypass Window 10 Hello face authentication.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

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Security researchers are urging Windows 10 users to update their systems to prevent attackers from using a printed headshot to bypass Windows Hello facial authentication.

Researchers from German pen-testing firm SYSS report that Windows 10 systems that have not yet received the recent Fall Creators Update are vulnerable to a "simple spoofing attack using a modified printed photo of an authorized person". The attack works against multiple versions of Windows 10 and different hardware.

The researchers tested the spoofing attack against a Dell Latitude with a LilBit USB camera and against a Surface Pro 4 running various versions of Windows 10, going back to the one of the first releases, version 1511.

SYSS claims the spoofing attack was successful on a Surface Pro 4 running version 1607 of Windows 10, the Anniversary Update rolled out in summer 2016, even with Microsoft's enhanced anti-spoofing enabled. However, the attack was only successful on version 1703, the Creators Update rolled out in Spring 2017, and 1709, the Fall Creators Update currently being rolled out, when anti-spoofing was disabled.

However, just applying the Fall Creators Update is not enough to block the spoofing attack, according to SYSS. To prevent a successful attack, users need to also setup Windows Hello face authentication from scratch after the update, as well as enabling anti-spoofing.

SYSS provided two videos demonstrating its proof of concept attacks. A third video shows the attack on a Surface Pro that was updated to version 1709 without reconfiguring Hello face authentication.

The Register spotted SYSS's advisory on Full Disclosure. SYSS offers a few more details about its attack on a separate German language writeup on its website.

A key element of the attack appears to be taking a headshot of the authenticated user with the near-infrared (IR) camera. Windows Hello uses near-IR imaging to unlock Windows devices. Microsoft chose near-IR imaging for authentication because it worked in poor lighting and offered some protection against spoofing attacks, since IR images aren't typically displayed in photos or on a screen.

SYSS printed out a modified version of the near-IR captured headshot in various resolutions and colors. Holding the printout up to a locked device's camera successfully unlocked it. Another method involved placing opaque sticky tape over the RGB camera lens and then holding the same printout up.

As far as the fix goes, SYSS notes that in its test only the Surface Pro 4 supported enhanced anti-spoofing while the LilBit USB IR camera did not.

The company plans to reveal further variations of its attack in spring 2018.

"According to our test results, the newer Windows 10 branches 1703 and 1709 are not vulnerable to the described spoofing attack by using a paper printout if the "enhanced anti-spoofing" feature is used with respective compatible hardware," SYSS wrote.

"Thus, concerning the use of Windows Hello face authentication, SYSS recommend updating the Windows 10 operating system to the latest revision of branch 1709, enabling the "enhanced anti-spoofing" feature, and reconfiguring Windows Hello face authentication afterwards."

Microsoft had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.


Simple spoofing attack works against multiple versions of Windows 10.

Image: SYSS

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