Apple iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner: Is It Really the Most Secure Option?

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How safe is your iPhone from being hacked?

How safe is your iPhone from hacking? Image by bfishadow

Apple’s iPhone 5S was released on September 20 but was announced almost two weeks ago. One of the newest features announced was the fingerprint scanner, known as Touch ID. The scanner is on the home button, only approved users can scan a fingerprint to unlock the screen.

How Touch ID Works

Apple already uses capacitive technology for its touch screens – capacitive technology uses the electrical charge present in your body as input, which means the screen can tell the difference between a finger and a pencil. They also use this technology for Touch ID. This ensures a human finger has to touch the screen, which means only your finger can unlock your phone.

Instead of scanning light, the capacitance scanner uses electrical current – and recognition technology compares the ridges on your finger to the fingerprints you’ve stored in the phone. This technology isn’t limited to fingerprints – according to the Washington Post, users are also storing toe-prints, prints of other body parts, and even dog paw-prints for iPhone access.

iPhone Security Concern: Apple Will Not Store Fingerprints

One concern for some users is the storing of the fingerprint images. Companies are now storing a lot of information that already cause security risks; storing fingerprints would be very dangerous. Apple has confirmed that they will not maintain a database of fingerprints; however, they are on your phone’s chip.

Senator Al Franken expressed concerns that this information could be hacked and stolen. Although the storage is encrypted, the Minnesota Senator expressed his concerns that hackers could have a person’s fingerprint for life in a letter to Apple CEO, Tim Cook.

Hacking the iPhone

Is a fingerprint scanner the more secure option? Image by letsgoeverywhere

Only your stored prints, fingers or otherwise, will work to unlock the system in theory. Lifting a fingerprint from the phone and using that to scan will not work, according to Apple, since the phone uses a combination of capacitive and visual recognition technology.

That didn’t stop hackers from opening a website offering prizes for anyone who could hack into the system. IsTouchIDHackedYet.com offers a range of prizes donated from different people, but the winner has to upload a video proving that or she has successfully hacked Touch ID.

So far, Chaos Computer Club in Germany has stated that they have successfully hacked an iPhone 5S by lifting a fingerprint. They claim to have taken a photo of the fingerprint on the screen, printed that onto a plastic sheet and then used thin latex to create a fake finger. The phone’s technology has then mistaken it to be a real finger. Unfortunately, the club has not yet posted video proof of their exploit.

The same group has published tutorials on bypassing fingerprint scanners using household items; according to a German hacker, Starbug, we leave fingerprints everywhere, and they’re too easy to lift to be a good basis for security programs.

Apple TouchID: The New Method of Phone Security?

Apple claims that this method of security is not meant to replace the traditional pass code technology. Touch ID is simply another method of locking your phone that may be more convenient. The problem is – it may also be more convenient for the hackers. Currently, your pass code is still required for additional verification, so anyone who wants to break into your phone will need to bypass various levels of security; your iPhone is safe for another day.

References:

Peterson, A. Toes, animals, nipples and hackers — all can unlock iPhone’s TouchID. (2013). Washington Post. Accessed September 24, 2013.

Gilbert, D. Apple Unveils iPhone 5S with Integrated Fingerprint Sensor(2013). International Business Times. Accessed September 24, 2013.

Gilbert, D. Hackers Offered Cash, Bitcoins and Whiskey to Crack iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner. (2013). International Business Times. Accessed September 24, 2013.

BBC News Technology. Apple Touch ID Fingerprint Tech ‘Broken’, Hackers Say. (2013). Accessed September 24, 2013.

BBC News Technology.  Apple Fingerprint Tech Raises ‘Privacy Questions’. (2013). Accessed September 24, 2013.

Woollaston, V. Apple’s iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner Hacked After Just Two Days—Using a Copy of a Print Made from a Photo. (2013). Daily Mail. Accessed September 24, 2013.

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