Skip to main content

LED baseball cap fools facial-recognition tech into thinking you’re someone else

Zhe Zhou
Zhe Zhou

There’s a constant push and pull when it comes to new security-related technologies. Researchers will invent a new security system, only to have others find a way of circumventing it, before still others come along and find a way to further strengthen it. That’s a vicious cycle and it certainly applies to facial-recognition software, which is now widely used in everything from airport security to unlocking our iPhone X handsets.

A new project carried out by researchers in China threatens to undermine it, however, through the creation of an LED-studded baseball cap, which is able to trick facial-recognition systems into thinking that you are another person entirely. The smart (but scary) hack involves projecting infrared dots of light onto a person’s face, which are then detected by facial-recognition cameras and wrongly interpreted as facial details. In a demo, the researchers were able to fool facial-recognition cameras into thinking that a person was someone else (including the singer Moby) with more than 70 percent accuracy.

“Through launching this kind of attack, an attacker not only can dodge surveillance cameras; more importantly, he can impersonate his target victim and pass the face authentication system, if only the victim’s photo is acquired by the attacker,” the researchers write in a publicly available paper. “… The attack is totally unobservable by nearby people, because not only is the light invisible, but also the device we made to launch the attack is small enough. According to our study on a large data set, attackers have … [an] over 70 percent success rate for finding such an adversarial example that can be implemented by infrared.”

This isn’t the only similar example of so-called “adversarial objects” we’ve come across. Previously we’ve covered adversarial glasses that are able to render people unrecognizable to facial recognition, and a way of altering textures on a 3- printed object to make, for instance, image-recognition systems identify a 3D-printed turtle as a rifle.

While the latest China-based study hasn’t been peer-reviewed, and therefore we can’t vouch for the results, it seems that more and more examples are highlighting the potential weaknesses of computational image recognition.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Chinese firm working on facial recognition that can identify you under a mask
Person using cellphone with mask

Let’s say you live in a country where there’s been reports of massive outbreaks of a highly contagious viral infection. Hypothetically, let’s call this infection "coronavirus." To avoid spreading this "coronavirus," many people have taken to wearing medical face masks when going about their everyday life. These masks don’t do much, medically speaking, but it’s considered the polite thing to do.

Now, let’s also say that the government there is notorious for widespread and unregulated use of facial-recognition technology as a way to both fight crime and to identify and silence political dissidents.

Read more
Clearview AI’s facial-recognition app is a nightmare for stalking victims
Facial Recognition Composite

The latest example of Silicon Valley's hubris is the facial-recognition app Clearview AI. The small startup's app is so powerful that someone could walk up to you on the street, snap your photo, and quickly find out your name, address, and phone number, according to a report in The New York Times.

This technology probably sounds like a great idea to two types of people: Law enforcement and creeps. Advocates worry this kind of facial-recognition technology could be a boon to stalkers, people with a history of domestic abuse, and anyone else who would want to find out everything about you for a nefarious purpose.

Read more
Bosch’s facial-recognition tech keeps you safe, entertained behind the wheel
Bosch facial recognition technology



Read more