Will the New iPhone Fingerprint Authentication Be Vulnerable to Hacking?

by Istvan Fekete on September 10, 2013

Today is a big day in the tech world: Apple will unveil two new iPhones during a special event scheduled for 10:00 a.m. PST at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino. The company is widely expected to unveil the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C, the lower-cost version of its popular high-end smartphone.

The key selling feature of the next-generation iPhone, dubbed the iPhone 5S, is expected to be the fingerprint scanner, a much-needed security feature that will lay down the basis of the next-generation mobile commerce and mobile payments. In the light of the looming event and the possibility of a built-in fingerprint reader, our question is reasonably straightforward: is the fingerprint authentication system vulnerable to hackers?

First things first: the rumours. Whispers about a fingerprint scanner built into the iPhone surfaced right after the company acquired biometric authentication company AuthenTec last year. Since then, the rumour mill has spilled tons of speculation about the feature, which didn’t make it to the iPhone 5.

This year, however, rumours have gained traction, and lately more evidence has surfaced about the forthcoming key feature of Apple’s star product. And yesterday the Wall Street Journal confirmed — again — that the iPhone 5S will indeed feature a fingerprint scanner built into the handset’s Home button. The scanner will be used to unlock the phone, and on a mobile banking app to unlock a user’s account in the future.

And now comes our question, which, from this perspective, seems to be highly justified: Can this system be hacked?

According to Wired’s sources, almost certainly.

Fact is, our fingerprint isn’t secret: we leave it on everything we touch. And fingerprint readers seem to have a long history of vulnerabilities as well, depending on the quality of the hardware: some can be fooled with a good photocopy, while others check for pores as well, while the better ones measure pulse or finger temperature, etc.

But when you have a bad guy with your fingerprint and your iPhone in his hands, you have a bigger problem to be concerned about.

What can raise concern is the scenario in which Apple centralizes the fingerprint database. We have heard about lots of database hacks lately, so a database of biometric information is something that sounds very attractive to hackers.

This, however, won’t be an issue if Apple stores the information locally on the phone, which will likely be the scenario.

But this remains to be seen. And there are only a couple hours left before we find out!

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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