iPhone 5S Users Fear that Hackers May Turn New Fingerprint Scanning Technology Against Them
Phil Schiller, Apple’s VP of marketing, announced Tuesday that the iPhone 5S would come equipped with a fingerprint sensor. Officially called Touch ID, the sensor and its software will let users access their iPhone and iTunes account via thumbprint. But will Touch ID actually make iPhones more secure.
A growing number of retail stores are using iPhones to conduct point of sale (POS) transactions on the spot using iPhones and the increased security will go a long way to securing the phone’s content.
“So much of our personal lives are on these devices. … We have to protect them,” said Schiller. The fingerprint sensor was a security measure that Apple installed, possibly in reaction to the fact that over half of iPhone users don’t use a passcode. “Some people find [passcodes] too cumbersome,” Schiller added.
However, for some the fear that hackers will always have the initiative has spawned a measure of apathy among those who intend to purchase the new iPhone. While they are excited to make use of the phone’s new features, a survey by website wired.com suggests that some users believe that hackers will ultimately be able to break into the biometric algorithm to easily gain access to their phone contents.
Brent Kennedy, a vulnerability analyst with the government-run U.S. Computer Emergency and Readiness Team who researched biometrics as a graduate student says people who are concerned about releasing sensitive date, may want to wait a bit before jumping on the fingerprint bandwagon.
“If the fingerprint reader tests well, it may be more secure than a four-digit pin. But I’d caution right away, let’s see how it tests and what people come up with to break it,” says Kennedy. “I wouldn’t rely on it solely, just as I wouldn’t with any new technology right off the bat.”
Part of the concerns over fingerprint technology are grounded in reality. Fingerprints aren’t just something we have on the tips of our fingers, we leave them imprinted on objects we come into contact with daily. So the potential exists that perhaps hackers may lift a fingerprint and somehow mimic the fingerprint sufficient to fool the scanner into thinking it has scanned owner’s finger and unlock the contents of the phone.
Some say that a simple fingerprint scanner just examines the edges of a fingerprint and can be fooled by a mere photocopy. While that may be true, it is highly unlikely that Apple will have spent so many marketing and development dollars to put out a cheesy scanner that would become the bane of the technological world.
In fact, the Apple 5S uses advanced encryption algorithms and stores the owner’s fingerprint within the A7 chip inside the 5S in a dedicated area known as the “secure enclave”. The fingerprint is not accessible to any other software to prevent hacking. The technology, known as Touch ID, uses a laser-cut sapphire crystal to produce a high resolution image of a fingerprint – hardly something that would be fooled by a mere photocopy.
Here in Canada, the iPhone 5s will cost $199, $299, and $399 for the 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB models respectively with a 2-year contract with most carries including Bell and Rogers. Non-contract, unlocked devices will be available at launch for $649/$749/$849.
Financial Times reporter Tim Bradshaw shared this video showing how the iPhone learns a fingerprint by scanning a finger a half-dozen times.