Thumb-scan authentication for your smartphone might sound sexy, but bypasses remain all too easy.
10 Hidden iPhone Tips, Tricks
(click image for larger view)
Apple aficionados: Don't count on fingerprint scanners built into future iOS devices to make you more secure. That's because such scans won't meaningfully improve real-world access security, or create a disincentive strong enough to counter the rising number of smartphone-centered muggings, also known as "Apple picking."
The news that future iOS devices -- the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch -- may have a fingerprint scanner built into their physical "home" button broke earlier this week, after London-based developer Hamza Sood (whose name may be a pseudonym) tweeted that he'd found a description of the feature in the accessibility settings of iOS7 beta 4.
For iOS watchers, such a move wouldn't be surprising, especially since 12 months ago, Apple paid $356 million for AuthenTec, which manufactures fingerprint readers. Adding them to an iPhone is an obvious next step.
Such a fingerprint reader, if enabled by users, could definitely make life more convenient by freeing users to not have to enter the four-digit passcode (that some subset of iOS users have enabled) or a complex alphanumeric passphrase (which an even smaller number of people employ).
That's because entering a passcode or passphrase on a smartphone is a usability chore. Blame small screen size and the absence of tactile feedback, which make it all too easy to "fat-finger" a virtual keyboard, especially when entering long passphrases.
Fingerprint scans, obviously, could eliminate the need to enter a complex password, arguably without compromising access security. One crucial related success factor, however, will be speed. If the average user employs a four-digit iPhone passcode and can enter it in less than a second, then the new biometric feature will need to be faster. Otherwise, the majority of users will stick with a faster option, which for many continues to involve no passcode at all.
From a hardware standpoint, making a fingerprint scanner small enough and fast enough to meet that requirement will be a challenge. Notably, less expensive fingerprint scanners tend to involve swiping a sensor, which serves the dual purpose of also keeping the sensor clean. But Apple's description of the feature describes a user "touching the home button with their thumb," and such technology is trickier to package in an iPhone form factor. "Full-finger scanners are more expensive as they must have the necessary resolution to scan your entire finger in one go," noted ExtremeTech, "and they also have a tendency to get crudded up, because you're not constantly cleaning them with a swiping action."
Apple isn't the first smartphone manufacturer to head down the fingerprint-scanning path. Since 2011, Atrix smartphones from Motorola -- now owned by Google -- have included a fingerprint scanner in the power/lock button. But the devices also require users to set a recovery PIN, which highlights how enterprising attackers might simply attempt to crack that, instead of trying to fool with fingerprints.
Furthermore, the technology -- unless packaged in dedicated, standalone devices like the eyeball and fingerprint scanners used in some airports -- remains unproven. "Fingerprint scanning, eyeball scanning, voice and face recognition are all at least a decade away from being reliable enough to use as authentication methods" in non-dedicated, mass-produced devices, says SMS authentication pioneer Andy Kemshall, technical director at SecurEnvoy, via email. "The technology simply isn't sophisticated enough."
InformationWeek Elite 100Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
The UC Infrastructure TrapWorries about subpar networks tanking unified communications programs could be valid: Thirty-one percent of respondents have rolled capabilities out to less than 10% of users vs. 21% delivering UC to 76% or more. Is low uptake a result of strained infrastructures delivering poor performance?
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of April 24, 2016. We'll be talking with the InformationWeek.com editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week!