Apple’s Touch ID - a breakthrough, or a flop?

25.12.2013 Rezman Mirsom

A long-awaited new iPhone 5S is out, and, as expected, the reactions are a blend of excitement and disappointment. However, one of the biggest changes to the Apple’s most popular device comes in the form of a much lauded new security feature, a so-called Touch ID fingerprint scanner. With the mission to make their phone the safest choice on the market, Apple indirectly brought biometric security back into the mainstream, and it has certainly been long overdue for these protection systems. But just how safe is this security mechanism, and has Apple overlooked some of the burning issues here?

Biometrics is the practice of identifying a human being by their endemic traits and characteristics. Fingerprints, of course, are unique to each person, making them an excellent security measure for mobile phone devices. Or, if we are to believe a group of German hackers, not so much really. Only a couple of days after the unveiling of the new iPhone model, a tech-savvy community calling themselves the Chaos Computer Club claimed they have cracked the fingerprint scanner simply by using a fake rubber finger. If this proves to be accurate, it might just be what it takes to force Apple to forfeit their freshly acquired title of the world’s most valuable brand, recently jabbed straight under Coca Cola’s feet.

But that may not be the only thing wrong with the scanner. Concerns were raised that the sensors might not even be suitable to read everyone’s fingerprint ‘data’. Those people making a living primarily with their hands might find it difficult to use the feature, leaving entire sections of the population, from artists to construction workers, behind on the latest trend.

Another problem with the system is more software-based, and it has to deal with the fact that the scanner can be programmed to recognize and give clearance to more than one fingerprint, and more than one user. So for example, if your son wants to play a game on your phone, he doesn’t need to employ your finger every time, but rather use his one instead. However, the system doesn’t allow for some of the phone’s features to be blocked to a certain user logging in via scanner. This means that if you connected your phone with your bank account information, all of the users the phone is programmed to respond to will be able to use your phone to buy apps, order a pizza, or rent a car. And as teens will be teens, some parents might find this the most troubling biometric issue of them all.

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