Re-posted for your reading pleasure.
New Apple iPhone pushes biometrics ‘into the mainstream’
iPhone 5S contains a fingerprint scanner
By Andre Mayer, CBC News, September 11, 2013
Apple’s new iPhone 5S is notable for containing a fingerprint scanner,
which will erase the need to type in a password to unlock the device.
The next-generation smartphones Apple announced Tuesday contain a powerful
new operating system and come in an array of snappy
colours, but the most intriguing aspect for many tech watchers was the
introduction of a fingerprint scanner.
“It’s a huge leap forward for biometrics in the consumer market,” says
Michelle Warren, president of Toronto-based tech analysis firm MW Research &
“It pushes biometrics into the mainstream.”
The new iPhone 5S contains “Touch ID,” which reads the user’s fingerprint in
order to unlock the phone. The sensor is situated on the home button at the
bottom of the iPhone.
Apple unveils new iPhone 5C and 5S
There was significant online buzz in the weeks prior to the announcement
that a new iPhone would include this technology. The speculation was
partially fuelled by Apple’s purchase of AuthenTec, a security firm that
specializes in fingerprint security, last July.
Apple’s fingerprint sensor is based on the science of biometrics, which uses
distinctive biological characteristics, such as a fingerprint or a retinal
pattern, to authenticate a user’s ID.
Freedom from passwords
Apple’s new iPhone isn’t the first personal computing device to use
biometric technology. In fact, consumer gadgets using this type of
technology have been
around for more than a decade.
In 2003, Sony introduced a thumb drive with a fingerprint scanner on board,
for example. Microsoft and other manufacturers have marketed
biometric-enabled keyboards, and a number of laptop makers currently offer
models with built-in
fingerprint readers. Companies such as Fujitsu and Pantech already produce
smartphones with fingerprint readers in some Asian markets.
What makes Apple’s “Touch ID” significant is that it makes the enhanced
convenience and security of biometrics a standard feature on the world’s
recognized smartphone platform.
And smartphones are where people are increasingly doing most of their
business, from email to shopping to banking, says Martin Drew, president of
an internet security firm based in Oakville, Ont.
“People hold their entire lives on these devices these days. If someone had
access to your smartphone for two hours, the damage they could do to your
would be phenomenal,” says Drew.
He says the biggest benefit of biometrics is that it makes typing passwords
Consumers have long complained that passwords are hard to remember. And when
they forget them, the process of regaining access to their computer or
smartphone involves a lot of hassle, says Drew. As a result, people
generally stick with shorter, easier-to-remember passwords, which can make
susceptible to hackers.
Apple’s new iPhone isn’t the first personal computing device to feature
biometric technology, but one experts believes the iPhone 5S will compel
manufacturers to make biometrics a mainstay on smartphones. (Aly
Song/Reuters)Your fingerprint, on the other hand, never changes and is
The move to biometrics isn’t merely a solution to the password problem. It’s
also a necessary security function as more and more people move to cloud
computing and mobile transactions, says Peter O’Neill, president of Find
Biometrics, a news site that reports on the biometrics industry.
“There are a lot of factors right now that are all coming together to make
this the perfect scenario” for biometric technology, says O’Neill.
“And then you have a company like Apple that is really expert in end-user
ability, which will make it really user-friendly and they’ll make it cool,
Warren believes the fingerprint scanner will become a “mainstay” on
Now that Apple has introduced Touch ID, she says Google will likely develop
similar technology for all of the Android-supported devices.
A mature technology
Apple’s adoption of biometrics for the iPhone is a high-profile example of
how the technology is becoming more ubiquitous. Biometric technology has
used in government and law enforcement as a way of authenticating people,
is rapidly moving into the commercial and consumer sectors, says O’Neill.
In addition to fingerprint recognition, companies are working on biometric
applications that could identify you through your iris, the geometry of your
hand, even your heartbeat.
Drew’s company, iView Systems, focuses mainly on facial-recognition
technology, selling it to casinos, for example, as a way to keep track of
customers. But he says that facial-recognition software isn’t 100 per cent
reliable, and can fail in poor lighting or when there is too much movement.
Facial-recognition software “has improved, but it’s not at a point where
you’d want to use it to log onto your computer,” says Drew.
Fingerprint identification is currently the most accurate and most mature
biometric technology, but it’s still possible to hack it, says Dimitrios
Hatzinakos, director of the Identity, Privacy and Security Initiative at the
University of Toronto.
“It’s not as easy as picking up somebody’s password – it would require some
effort and planning,” he says.
Besides apocryphal stories of people cutting off another person’s finger in
order to gain access to a biometrically locked device, Hatzinakos says that
someone had a copy of your fingerprint – left on a glass, for example – they
could conceivably reproduce it and trick the sensor.
Drew says he is well aware of the potential pitfalls of biometric
technology, but says that it is still preferable to the password system.
“Anything can be cracked eventually,” says Drew. “I think that’s how people
look at it from a security perspective.”