Is the iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner Safe?

Yesterday, Apple unveiled the new iPhone 5S. One of the phone’s key features – aside from that snazzy gold back – is the Touch ID system, which allows the user to unlock the phone and download apps from the App Store with just their fingerprint.

Speaking to Mashable, several industry experts predicted that biometric technology like the fingerprint scanner is poised to become the norm in the smartphone world:

“There’s no question — since we’re working with biometric providers — the other major mobile manufacturers already have products in the queue coming out,” says Benjamin Chen, CEO of Arkami, which builds myIDkey, a USB thumb drive secured with biometrics. “Their number one competitor will have the model soon.”

Chen wouldn’t say who that was, but Apple’s chief competitor in the smartphone space is generally regarded as Samsung.

Mike Flannery, director of access control product management for Tyco Integrated Security, agrees.

“It’s a pretty bold move. If Apple thinks enough of this technology to put it on their iPhone, it’s going to be ubiquitous within a year. That’ll drive down the cost.”

But is using your fingerprint safer than using a traditional password? Can fingerprints be easily cracked like passwords can, or would a would-be hacker’s only recourse be to steal your actual finger like a villain in a spy movie? These are the things that keep us up at night.

According to security expert Shuman Ghosemajumder, who recently spoke to Business Insider, the fingerprint scanner as Apple has designed it is relatively secure – as long as your fingerprints don’t end up in the cloud. In Ghosemajumder’s opinion, as long as the fingerprint scanner doesn’t share information about your fingerprint with any software and stores the information safely within the phone (fingerprints will be encrypted on the phone’s A7 chip), your prints will be safe.

Even then, though, the fact that the scanner will let you download songs and apps without a password could be a concern.

“Even temporary storage of a fingerprint in a cloud server could give hackers an ‘in,” Business Insider reports.

I’m genuinely not sure which is more worrisome, the idea that clumsy security might mean hackers are able to pluck my fingerprint out of the cloud and use it, or the aforementioned actual finger-stealing scenario. I think I’ll be steering clear of the iPhone 5S just to be safe.


But seriously, whether it’s secure or not, I’m not too stoked on the fingerprint scanner. It clearly wasn’t built to be a security feature, but a gimmicky convenience feature. But unless the technology’s come a long way, a fingerprint scanner might not even be that convenient, given that all the fingerprint scanners I’ve used in the past have been finicky and prone to locking me out of my device. Apple seems to think it’s solved this issue, but that remains to be seen.

(via Business Insider)

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