back to article Crane horror Reg reader uses his severed finger to unlock Samsung Galaxy phone

Everyone knows the trope. The baddies smash their way in and gun down the guard standing in front of the vault. "Dammit," says the lead bad guy, "it's a biometric scanner, we'll never get in!" His most grizzled henchman turns round, holding up the dead guard's lifeless arm. "Oh yes we will…" A Reg reader recreated this scene …

  1. Joe W Silver badge

    Get better soon, Kieran!




    ElReg-readers sure are a weird bunch.

    1. @kfh857

      Re: Get better soon, Kieran!

      On the road to recovery, thanks

  2. bpfh

    Talk about giving biometric security the finger...

    I'll get my coat -->

  3. Sgt_Oddball

    My severed right index fingertip...

    Does the same trick.

    But then I did manage to have that reattached. It's still got a weird lump with a white scar running around it and does require a certain amount of finessing before finger scanners will pick it up though due to the odd geometry of appendage.

    Did he still have his fingernail by the way El Reg reporters? Severed fingertips and fingernails can result in some weirdness when things heal up abit more. (Morbid) enquiring minds and all that..

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: My severed right index fingertip...

      I've got a toenail which looks like it's about to fall off. Is that any help?

  4. Mr Humbug

    It would have been more interesting...

    if he had registered the fingerprint on the phone before the accident and could still unlock it with the severed digit afterwards.

    Someone should investigate this. Someone who is not me.

    1. Keith Langmead

      Re: It would have been more interesting...

      Yeah I was thinking the same thing. Surely any tech checking if the finger is real/alive has less to do with knowing the exact characteristics of a live vs dead/fake finger, and more about detecting more than just the finger print so it can then detect the difference when that state changes. Otherwise you also have to get into the realm of deciding what the acceptable range of values should be to cover everyone, since one person may naturally have much warmer or much colder fingers than someone else. So since he had access to the phone and setup the dead finger as being valid, when he then used it the phone obviously unlocked because it was a perfect match.

      Makes me think of Nick Fury in Winter Soldier, where he'd previously already registered his dead eye so he had a backup in case someone removed his official working eye scan from the system.

      1. 2460 Something

        Re: It would have been more interesting...

        My thoughts as well. As it stands it's still pretty cool (and gruesome) but no security risk unless it was registered whilst attached and still working afterwards.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: It would have been more interesting...

      I'm sure that it's very important information as it stands, if you are a zombie.

  5. Valeyard

    "on the other hand he was fine"

    Absolutely amazing subheader, top notch

    1. Nifty

      Re: "on the other hand he was fine"

      When I read the headline I immediately imagined the scenario being, he needed to use the severed off fingertip to unlock the phone to call for help...

      1. Chris 239

        Re: "on the other hand he was fine"

        Yep, same here! Imagined him being trapped in the incident that severed the finger and having to pick it up off the floor to unlock his phone to call for help.

  6. Howard Sway Silver badge

    severed finger unlocker

    He sounds weirdly happy that his phone worked with his other newly portable digital device. If it was me, I wouldn't be saying "well at least I can still unlock my phone".

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: severed finger unlocker

      At least the crane cable wasn't crushing somewhere more vital?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: severed finger unlocker


        Do you unlock your phone with that Even in the office?

        I've heard that biometrics is a growing field - with stiff challenges to overcome in order to solve some hard problems and offer protection from infection.

        OK, OK, I'll get my coat. The long, dirty one with the suspicious rubber items in the pockets please.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: severed finger unlocker

          Haven't you heard of a dongle ?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: severed finger unlocker

          Never used your dictaphone?

          Pass me my coat while you're getting yours, will you?

      2. zuckzuckgo

        Re: severed finger unlocker

        Ouch! The index finger is my second favourite digit.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: severed finger unlocker

        At least it wasn't a ring avulsion injury like the one experienced by Jimmy Fallon. Image search best done on an empty stomach.

        1. Mr Sceptical
          Thumb Down

          Re: severed finger unlocker

          For amusement and morbid interest, I checked out a book on hand injuries from the pre-clinical library at Uni.

          I'm not squeamish, but my housemates did struggle with many of the graphic photos.

          One that stuck in the mind was a poor guy who had all his fingers on one hand torn out, including 30cm of tendons that controlled them, preventing them being meaningfully reattached...

          Icon for what his hand looked like afterwards --->

  7. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Now, which El Reg reader wants to experiment with the eyeball on a ballpoint pen trick out of 'Demolition Man'?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Sure, no problem. Just tell me who's volunteering the eyeball.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Simon says it’s yours!

        Be well.

      2. zuckzuckgo

        >who's volunteering the eyeball.

        Maybe we can create a synthetic one using a small high a resolution display. The iBall ?

  8. Martin-R
    Thumb Up

    finger in glove

    Having mashed a finger rather painfully once, I can sympathise with not wanting to look too closely in the glove, or even take the glove off at all... I got lucky, nothing more than a snapped tendon in the end, but by $deity did it hurt!

    1. GrumpenKraut
      Thumb Up

      Re: finger in glove

      Hit my left thumb (resting on stone) with a 2 kg hammer. I could breathe normally only after about 90 seconds later, the pain was just evil. Daring to take off the glove? That took about 20 minutes. Unbelievably neither a bone cracked nor a tendon snapped.

      Fun fact: the "Payday" movie will never be the same again.

      1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

        Re: finger in glove

        Got my right thumb smashed in mid June 2013 or 14 by my nephew wielding a maul while hammering in stakes to hold our newly-built "playscape" to the backyard lawn. Nothing broke, but had urgent care use what looked like a soldering iron to burn two holes right through the nail to bleed out the extra blood to ease the swelling. Lost the nail within a couple weeks; it grew back in about six months, stronger than ever.

        1. GrumpenKraut

          Re: finger in glove

          LOL (sorry!). I had an X-ray taken and, as I said, all seemed fine. Said thumb was mightily swollen though and oozing funny fluids. I was told that should the swelling not go away I should come back to get a cut through the skin so the funny stuff could come out. I just said: IT WILL BE OK! THANKS! BYE!

          Karma note: was with a girl that day and had been a bit of an obnoxious bastard. I think she had the best day of her life that day.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: finger in glove

            Oh yes, the "we must make a hole in the finger for stuff to come out". Here's a tip, if you wait with that, stand well back when it's being done because it doesn't half build up some pressure. Not that the fantastic balloon shape isn't already a hint, but still. In my case they made a hole in the nail with a heated needle. It did help immensely with the pain, though, but it took a while for the flow to stop, with the pressur off new blood could flow.

            Been there, done that, felt it, seen it. Broken off the top bit of the uppermost bone in a thumb, so that was several weeks offline for me.

      2. NBCanuck

        Re: finger in glove

        Haven't seen "Payday", but Mel Gibson takes lot of hammering in "Payback".

        1. GrumpenKraut

          Re: finger in glove

          > "Payback".

          Dammit, yes, thanks for correcting!

      3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: finger in glove

        >Hit my left thumb (resting on stone) with a 2 kg hammer.

        Why ?

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: finger in glove

          Half a litre of Jack Daniels raises the most amazing existential questions...

          1. GrumpenKraut

            Re: finger in glove

            Me being me, if I had ever mixed alcohol and heavy machinery/tools, I'd be typing with my elbows now.

        2. GrumpenKraut

          Re: finger in glove

          > Why ?

          It was in a quarry, looking/digging for fossils. Missed the chisel.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: finger in glove

            We all miss the chisel, but you don't have to take out your loss on your thumb

    2. Potty Professor

      Re: finger in glove

      I had a road accident once, and the upper joint of my right middle finger was smashed, it looked like a peeled banana, with the naked bone sticking out from between the three flaps of skin, one with the nail still attached. A&E cleaned it out and pushed it back into shape, before bandaging it tightly with a gauze finger stall. They said that it would heal, but that I would probably lose the nail. Then they said they were going to give me a Tetanus shot. Seconds later I turned a sickly green colour and fell off the couch onto the floor, apparently I was (still am) allergic to Tetanus Toxoid. They all rushed about like headless chickens until someone found an Adrenalin shot, which rectified the situation somewhat. I didn't lose the nail, but there is a strange bump on the tip of that finger, which had no feeling for many years but is fine now.

  9. LastTangoInParis

    Not all fingers are equal?

    Anyone got elderly parents who have had issues with touch screens? My 80+ mum has a Kindle Fire she can’t use, her fingers don’t work on it. iPad is apparently better. I’ve no idea why.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Not all fingers are equal?

      Mum sometimes has that problem on her phone - but seemingly not her iPad.

      I'm in my mid 40s, and if I've just been washing up, or just got out of the shower, so all the oils have been washed out of the skin in my hands and the skin is totally dry - I sometimes find it takes a couple of goes to make the smartphone screen work. Or I have to hold my thumb flat, to have a larger surface area in contact, rather than just brushing the end over the screen.

      As I understand it, our skin loses conductivity as we age. But I've had success suggesting to Mum that she use the flat part of the finger or thumb, instead of the end. It seems to give the screen more to detect.

      I suspect there may also be an issue with some panels being less sensitive - though equally it could be software.

    2. First Light

      Re: Not all fingers are equal?

      From Scientific American on disappearing fingerprints:

      The elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Not all fingers are equal?

      Some of that is due to cheap touch elements. I have that problem, and I'm quite young. I only have it on a old and very cheap device I keep around for ... actually I don't know why I keep it around as it does nothing useful and is a pain to use. Well anyway it's here. The older and cheaper panels can lack precision which means they don't frequently register finer movements. For example, on this one, it will register taps well enough but it is not very good at registering movement of the finger. Scrolling frequently doesn't work because it thinks I'm just tapping on something.

  10. WarwickHunt69

    Remember Dave Lister using his dead clone's hand to open a door in Red Dwarf?

    At the end Kryten said "now might be time for you to give me five, sir" and Lister said "I can do better than that - I can give you fifteen!" Cos he'd still got the hand.

    That's it. Yeah, I logged in for the first time in years to post that.

    1. hollymcr

      Re: Remember Dave Lister using his dead clone's hand to open a door in Red Dwarf?

      I logged in for the first time in ages to upvote it, so....

  11. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

    Biometrics is NOT security, it's just like the username part of authentication, except you can't change it. You can change even your real name as part of a whim or witness protection scheme.

    Biometrics should never be part of identity checks, passports, car licence etc. Because you can't change it and a criminal can use their real biometrics edited into your account, or vice versa as no computer system is secure.

    1. Cuddles

      Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

      As always, it depends. There's always a compromise between security and convenience, you just have to choose which balance is best in each particular situation. For most people, by far the biggest risk to their phone is losing it and having some random pick it up or having it swiped by a casual thief. In either case, a fingerprint is more than sufficient, since they have no idea who you are, no way to get a copy of your fingerprint, and no interest in anything beyond wiping it and selling it on. On the other hand, most people want to unlock their phone tens or hundreds of times every day, so being able to give it a quick poke has a large benefit.

      Obviously requirements for accessing top secret military information has very different considerations.

      So a blanket "never" doesn't really make sense. Biometrics have some clear downsides, but they also have some upsides. And depending on what you're doing, those downsides may not be that bad, but the upsides might be quite useful. And in any case, security guidelines always need to take into account what is actually possible. Even if using a long, complex password to secure your phone, the vast majority of people will never actually use one, so insisting that they do is completely pointless. A fingerpring might not be the best solution, but it's likely better than a simple four digit PIN or a swipe pattern that can be clearly seen smeared across the screen. As always, it's important not to let perfect be the enemy of better.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

        One issue is the laws on biometrics vs. passwords are different, at least on this side of the pond.

        Giving up a password is testifying against yourself, and banned by the 5th amendment, but you can be jailed for refusing to swipe your phone.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

        After reading this article, the robber now knows he must slice off the end of your finger and take it with him. Whereas with a 4 digit pin, you can just show him the combination.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

          If they're threatening you with violence, just give them the pin anyway. I haven't seen a device which accepts fingerprints and doesn't have a backup pin for when you've recently washed your hands thoroughly or are wearing gloves. If they want it unlocked, that's more reliable and less painful for you.

        2. Cuddles

          Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

          But that's kind of the point - your average casual thief may be happy to swipe a phone or other small valuables, but is less likely to be willing to cause serious harm, and much, much less likely to have any interest in targeted severing of body parts. If you're a target of interest to a TLA or drugs cartel, this may be something you need to take into account for your security precautions. But it's simply not relevant to the vast majority of population who only need to worry about casual opportunistic theft and not targeted violent attacks.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

            But that's kind of the point - your average casual thief may be happy to swipe a phone or other small valuables, but is less likely to be willing to cause serious harm, and much, much less likely to have any interest in targeted severing of body parts.

            But this is also kind of the point. I personally don't want it to be "much less likely" for any criminal (whether casual or not) to have any interest in the targeted severing of my body parts.

            If they are participating in a hack on my employer and they want my admin account to help with that i'd rather than the hack didn't begin with them hacking my finger off. I want a situation engineered where the most stupid and sociopathic thief out there knows full well that there is absolutely zero reason to remove any of my body parts.

            Anything less is likely to eventually lead to some poor git being mutilated if the reward is sufficiently in excess of the risk.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

              That's never going to happen. If you're faced with a criminal who is willing to cut your finger off, they can also just use the cutting implement to threaten you until you use the fingerprint to unlock the system. Then they're in. Or they can similarly threaten you until you give them the backup password, which basically everything has, and they've achieved the same. If the theoretical criminal wants access to something, they will be satisfied with a password because nobody wants to carry around a dismembered finger unless they absolutely have to. Even if the finger would work, if there's an alternative which there is, they'll use that.

          2. Mr Sceptical

            Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

            There was a news report years ago about some guy in South America who thought it was smart to protect his expensive car from theft by installing a biometric reader to start it.

            Guess what the theives did to steal it then??

            Can't remember if he survived or not, but would answer to Stumpy if he did.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

          Isn't slicing 'off the end of your finger' a one digit PIN?

        4. zuckzuckgo

          Re: Biometrics should not be part of ID or Security

          >he must slice off the end of your finger and take it with him.

          Point taken.

  12. Ken G Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    And it's a thumbs up from me!

  13. spireite Silver badge

    How did he find the contact to call?

    He thumbed through his index

  14. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    People Here Are Slipping.

    Not one of you thus far has posted.....

  15. oresme

    I am impressed that the original article, and all of the comments so far, do not use the word "handy" at all. The temptation must have

    been almost unendurable.

  16. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Bring Me...

    Bring Me the Head of Alfredo GarciaFingertip of Kieran Higgins

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh yeah, he's one of us alright!

  18. Robert Grant

    > We understand his wife wanted it buried ASAP.

    What would've been 80% of the article in some websites is 8 (11?) words here. Stay British, El Reg :)

  19. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    My Fair Finger

    with Professor Kieran "Handy" Higgins

    The Crane in Spain falls...

  20. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Reg Prescott...

    (Those of a faint disposition may want to skip the video...)

    RIP Mr Everett - you are sorely missed

  21. Sabot

    More than 20 years ago I tested fingerprint readers from Precise Biometrics, that would refuse to recognize "dead fingers", even when the fingers were still attached to the body, but suffering from a serious lack of blood flow. After the blood flow returned, the fingers came back to life, and the fingerprint reader would accept them again.

    1. 2460 Something

      One has to question why you were testing 'dead' fingers. At what point did that come into the QA/Acceptance criteria?

  22. @kfh857

    I suppose the takeaway here is to keep biometric enrollments up to date, particularly if your industry is high physical risk. Also beware consumer grade security solutions

  23. aqk
    Thumb Up

    I use either left or right index fingers.

    Both fingerprints are registered on my phone - Is it just my phone? (A Redmi /Xiaomi Note-8 Pro)

    I could possibly register more prints... ? I've never tried.

    Why would anyone just register one fingerprint?

    1. Dave559

      Re: I use either left or right index fingers.

      I think I must have a rather pessimistic "what if" consider-all-possibilities sort of mindset, as, when I first got a mobile phone with a fingerprint reader, it seemed to me only sensible to register a finger on each hand just in case "what if"…

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    DIY surgery

    I had the same toenail issue you speak of.

    Unforunately it was a bank holiday weekend, and after 1 1/2 days of agony by Sunday morning I'd had enough and went at it with a kitchen knife (!) with the back-and-forth rotation method at 4am.

    It actually worked!! Blood spot and pain retreated to mere Shirley Temple level.

    My attempt at Supergluing my thumb back together after a slight cooking oops on the other hand didn't work as well though at least the healing process had begun by the time the glue finally failed.

    AC because the penalties for DIY surgery without an MD present are more severe than Class A drug dealing in some jurisdictions.

    1. Chris 15
      Thumb Up

      Re: DIY surgery

      DIY surgery on yourself probably doesn't qualify for those penalties. A trip to a psychologist and/or a strait jacket may be mentioned however

    2. PRR Silver badge

      Re: DIY surgery

      > toenail issue .... after 1 1/2 days of agony by Sunday morning I'd had enough and went at it with a kitchen knife (!) with the back-and-forth rotation method at 4am.

      Even my Boy Scout Manual said a needle heated in a flame. You already hurt bad, back-and-forth makes it worse. A hot needle can't be worse than whatever crushed your digit. When you hit blood/juice the point of the needle cools rapidly, you won't 'go too far'. And flame sterilizes: the LAST thing you need in a smashed and swollen finger is a pernicious infection under the nail where it can't be treated.

      I had the thumb smashed so the bone showed. It's almost healed now, 45 years later. Fingerprint is slightly messed-up, but who knows? The first I heard of practical print readers was a couple years later, a pal working in AT&T and had to visit the north Jersey super-secure room. (Net-ops? Billing? Staging for tapes shipping to Iron Mountain? She would not say.)

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Also relevant

    Supposedly, the scanners at CERN check for "viability" and will refuse entrance if the appendage or eye is no longer alive.

    Learned that from someone who claims to have worked there.

    This is actually a valid point, as a severed finger could feasibly be hooked up to a cheap pump before the vessels fill up with

    clotted blood and/or it dries out irreversibly.

    Anyone care to test it out, please post back here!

    AC, because I use biometrics and don't want to get gutted like a fish.

  26. JWLong

    I wonder if

    Anyone had a bone to pick with him?

  27. Dave559

    Post-pub neckfiller

    It is perhaps just as well that this unlucky and unpleasant incident didn't coincide with the "Post-pub neckfiller" series…!

    And on the subject of pubs, drinks and detached digits

  28. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    It doesn't check for a LIVE finger? And this is why I never buy Samsung phones...

  29. rbf

    Prosthetics are a great help

    The stump can be excruciatingly sensitive - allodynia is the medical term.

    These days the cap is 3D printed from the impression. Your finger will be far more comfortable with it on. With the proper material, there is some protection from cold temperature.

    Don't bother with the silicone glove. Unless you spend a whack of money, it looks dreadful, is expensive and all too easy to lose.

    A gel toe protector works fine over the cap.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like