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WSJ: iPhone 5S will have fingerprint-sensing home button

updated 12:14 am EDT, Tue September 10, 2013

Security feature will be left out of cheaper iPhone 5C, paper says

On the eve of Apple's announcement of new iPhones, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the long-rumored home button fingerprint scanner will become a feature of the iPhone 5S, the company's next model of premium smartphone. The fingerprint sensor will likely be used in addition to standard security measures such as PIN numbers or passcodes, but add a significant extra layer of security which could push e-commerce, banking and other high-security applications forward, in addition to making iPhones less valuable to thieves.

As with many things Apple has added, reinvented or made mainstream, biometric technology has been around for years, but outside of some government and enterprise use it is rarely seen due to cost or poor reliability. Apple's purchase of Florida-based AuthenTec in 2012 has made it possible for the company to nearly-invisibly incorporate the fingerprint scanner directly into the iPhone's home button. Others have tried the same path, but AuthenTec's technology is reported by the Journal to be more accurate and intuitive than previous approaches, using RF field attenuation to map the identifying fingerprint.

If true, the implementation would be as simple as normal use of the home button, and could have all manner of applications, from unlocking the home screen to preventing unauthorized in-app purchases by family members, or preventing thieves from opening or resetting the iPhone, making it far less valuable when stolen. The biggest gain to be had from the technology if it gets widely adopted is to close one of the biggest consumer loopholes: buyers' insistence on using simple, easy-to-remember passwords rather than unmemorable, strong ones. Apple already has an option for strong passcodes in its iOS devices, but very few users rely on it, preferring the simpler four-digit passcode -- or none at all.

Previous attempts at fingerprint technology in smartphones -- such as the pre-Google Motorola Atrix 4G in 2011 -- failed because the technology wasn't reliable, leading customers to avoid the feature. Ironically, there are reports that at least one Android-based smartphone will likely adopt a similar fingerprint home button technique in a future release this year or early next year -- thought by many to be from Samsung, which may (given its patent issues with Apple) not sell that particular model in the US.

In combination with strong passwords, enterprise networks, financial and medical information or other sensitive data could become far more to break, dramatically reducing attacks on online databases. It remains to be seen if Apple will incorporate its fingerprint security implementation into an API for third-party developers, or whether it will still require passcodes or other forms of security in addition to the fingerprint, using the scanner as a "final check" rather than a bypass of other traditional methods.

Also unknown at this point is whether Apple's identity verification system will overcome the common methods of defeating previous fingerprint-scanning technologies, including making a mold of the fingerprint or hacking the scanner itself to allow a false positive. Changes in the finger itself, such as moisture or dirt, may also need to be taken into account to assess how well AuthenTec's technology will really work in real-world usage situations.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. apostle

    Junior Member

    Joined: 04-16-08

    Will be interesting to see how many people willingly submit their fingerprint(s) to the NSA.

  1. chas_m

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    I find it amusing that you don't think the NSA already has that information ...

  1. JohnD

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-24-01

    Let's call it the NSA button from now on ..

  1. vinnieA2

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 03-28-05

    well, let's just be glad that the first moronic comment about fingerprint scanner was "submit to the NSA" rather than "people will be getting their thumbs cut off by thieves".

  1. butthead

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 09-10-13

    Let's be glad that vinnie's moronic comment wasn't about "what have you got to hide". Hello mc fly. Anybody home? Can you prove that the phone doesn't submit fingerprint to the NSA? If this phone submits fingerprints to iTunes, the data will be on file for when the NSA requests it. Or the FBI or whatever agency is requesting the data, just like the other requests for data that Apple receives every day from government organizations. This IS the new NSA button.

  1. Laminar

    Posting Junkie

    Joined: 04-28-07

    Originally Posted by buttheadView Post

    Can you prove that the phone doesn't submit fingerprint to the NSA?



    Russell's teapot - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  1. abbaZaba

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 06-14-06

    I think it would be up to you or someone like minded to negate their claim the fingerprints end up being stored anywhere outside the chip

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Originally Posted by buttheadView Post

    Let's be glad that vinnie's moronic comment wasn't about "what have you got to hide". Hello mc fly. Anybody home? Can you prove that the phone doesn't submit fingerprint to the NSA? If this phone submits fingerprints to iTunes, the data will be on file for when the NSA requests it.



    So apart from the fact that everybody entering the US already has to put their fingerprints on file (which is an affront, but understandable), and Apple's explicit claims that the fingerprint data is "encrypted and stored within a secure enclave in our new A7 chip," that it is available only to the Touch ID architecture, never to any other apps, and that it never leaves the phone at all, let alone reaches Apple's servers, what sort of information are you looking for?

  1. Laminar

    Posting Junkie

    Joined: 04-28-07

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Honestly, in discussions about the NSA, the tinfoil-hat defense is not permissible, because pretty much every paranoid fantasy ever imagined has turned out to be TRUE.

    Except Chemtrails and whatever tinfoil hats are actually supposed to protect against. Those are ridiculous bullshit propagated by the people of Wal-Mart.

  1. moonmonkey

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 01-13-01

    This fingerprint scanner in an iPhone would never happen, very un apple.

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