A Chinese man used his ex-girlfriend’s phone while she was asleep and bypassed facial recognition by lifting up her eyelids, successfully stealing money from her Alipay account.
The identity theft case has stunned Chinese people and topped search charts of Weibo, China’s Twitter, on Dec. 12 with 490 million views.
The Paper on Dec. 12 quoted Nanning Evening Journal, a local official media in Guangxi Province, which reported that a 28-year-old man surnamed Huang, a native of the province’s Hepu county, was in gambling debt. On Dec. 26 last year, Huang called his ex-girlfriend surnamed Dong on the pretext of paying back the money he owed her.
When Huang arrived at Dong’s home in the afternoon, he found Dong ill. Huang immediately took the initiative to be attentive to Dong’s needs, cooking for her and helping with her medicine. After Dong was sound asleep, Huang used Dong’s fingerprints to unlock her Huawei phone. He then lifted her upper eyelids for facial recognition to gain access to her Alipay app, an online payment app developed by Alibaba Group.
Huang processed several transactions from Dong’s Alipay and bank card, totaling $154,000 yuan ($24,000), and then left. With the stolen money, Huang paid off his gambling debts and continued gambling with the remaining money, according to the verdict of a court in Nanning city.
Upon waking up, Dong reported the theft to the local police. In April, Huang was caught. The court recently sentenced Huang to three years and six months in prison and fined him 20,000 yuan ($3,140).
The identity theft case raises questions on the facial recognition technology of Chinese domestic smartphones.
Earlier this year, the research team of RealAI, an industry-academia-research technology enterprise under the Institute of Artificial Intelligence of Tsinghua University in Beijing, did a facial recognition test. They selected 20 smartphones, 19 of which were made in China; and from the top 5 domestic cell phone brands, 1 of which is the iPhone 11. Then, they printed out photos of volunteers’ eyes and pasted them on glasses. Within 15 minutes, all 19 Chinese phones were successfully unlocked, only the iPhone did not work.
The research team said that the ease of unlocking was actually only the first step, they found through testing that many applications on the phone can pass through authentication by countering a sample attack. They were even able to impersonate owners to open a bank account online.
Zhang Xudong, senior product manager of RealAI, said in a Jan. 14, 2020, report of Science and Technology Daily, an official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, that the research is aimed at the technical vulnerability of the AI recognition algorithm, which generates “noise” to counter the sample attack and induces errors in the recognition system.
“The early-stage AI technology generates videos in which the characters often do not blink their eyes … But with the continuous evolution of deep forgery technology, these identification methods are no longer effective.” Zhang said.
Abuse of the immature AI technology will result in personal information being easily manipulated, bringing about privacy leaks and identity crises, and also giving rise to new types of black businesses that are more secretive and difficult to detect, such as pornography and financial fraud, Zhang added.
State-owned Xinhua media reported on April 7 that facial recognition has become over-solicited biometric information for many apps and applets. Some small commercial companies even offer to sell facial data for as little as 0.5 yuan.
China is the largest consumer of facial recognition devices and is expected to account for 44.59 percent of the global share in 2023, reported Verdict, a UK-based technology business media.
Huawei phones have been banned from carrying critical software and licenses from Google since a U.S. export restriction announced by the Commerce Department on Aug. 17, 2020. Thirty-eight Huawei subsidiaries around the world are on the “entity list” of U.S. export restrictions to prevent Huawei from obtaining U.S. technology and related products.
In 2020, Former President Donald Trump said Huawei is able to “spy on us” through telecommunication systems that use their equipment, calling Huawei “Spy-wei.”