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Published on September 11th, 2013 | by Martha Kent

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According to Apple, your fingerprints are safe with Touch ID. But are they really?

Yesterday, Apple introduced its new iPhone 5S. I’ve already covered all the new features in this article and today I want to ask (and maybe find some answers) some questions regarding the new security feature of latest iPhone device, the Touch ID.  How safe is it, what will happen with your fingerprint once the smartphone scans it, should we be worried about our own privacy?

iphone-5s-touch-id

How does Touch ID works?
In short, Touch ID offers a quick solution to secure your phone without having to add a security PIN. It will scan your fingerprint once you use the new “Home button”, and it grants (or blocks) the access to the phone. You can use it instead of the old 4 digit-pin unlock. You can also grant access to iTunes Store purchases with it.

The technology inside Touch ID
The Touch ID sensor is embedded in the Home button, it is 170 microns thin and it has a resolution of 500 ppi. The sensor takes a picture of your sub-epidermal layer of your skin and makes a comparison with the one that’s already stored inside the device. It does not matter in which angle you use your finger, it still works.

Where is my fingerprint stored?
Apple says that your fingerprint data is perfectly safe, encrypted and stored locally on the iPhone’s 64 bit processor, the new A7-chip. If I remember correctly, they underlined the fact that it’s not stored in the cloud or anywhere on the Internet, just locally.

Is my fingerprint safe with Touch ID?
In an era when everyone talks about NSA and the PRISM surveillance program, Apple had to make things perfectly clear about their new Touch ID technology. And yesterday, they tried to do that. According to Apple, your fingerprint data will be carefully guarded and Apple apps or developers will not have access to this data. But according to an article posted on Yahoo News couple of days ago, NSA has already access to your iPhone. In addition, modified iPhone chargers are capable of hacking users’ handsets and fingerprint scanners have been hacked before so we can expect new creative methods to bypass this security in the near future. Of course, the question that rises here is this: “Is it possible for someone to hack remotely into your smartphone and steal your fingerprint?”. If this is achievable, that “someone” could create a large fingerprint database. Nothing new here, since an article posted on Reuters states that “the U.S. government has been collecting digital fingerprints and photographs of nearly all non-citizens aged 14 and up entering the country since 2004”. So, if you live in US, your fingerprint may not be safe already.

Conclusion
Apple decided to add a new feature to their iPhone 5s, the Touch ID, marking the beginning of mainstream fingerprint recognition. In the future I expect some controversy regarding this feature, since there are already voices alleging that our smartphones are not safe and there are some agencies that might have access to our private data. The Touch ID may be just an experiment that will vanish in the next iPhone installment, the upcoming iPhone 6. But it’s more probable for this feature to be seen in future iPhone devices and probably in future Samsung or HTC devices. To my understanding from yesterday’s release event, this is just the first move towards a bigger plan to make your iPhone (and your fingerprint) the key to your digital life.

…But are they really?
Even if other companies may introduce a fingerprint scanner in their future devices and in 2-3 years it will be a normal thing to unlock your smartphone with your fingerprint, we need to stay aware of privacy issues regarding this technology. Nothing is safe in the digital world.

Tags: smartphones, technology


About the Author

I am the senior editor for SciNotions web magazine. In the past, I have also worked in various projects involving science, music, technology and gadgets.



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