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9/11/2013
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iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts

Will Apple's fingerprint-based authentication make your iPhone 5s more secure, or will it cause more trouble than it's worth?

iPhone 5c, 5s: 10 Smart Design Choices
iPhone 5c, 5s: 10 Smart Design Choices
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The new iPhone 5s, unveiled Tuesday and due out in stores later this month, includes a biometric fingertip scanner -- a first for an Apple smartphone. Dubbed Touch ID, the feature can be used to unlock the device, as well as make purchases in the iTunes, iBooks and App stores.

As with virtually every other new feature in the iPhone 5s, this addition was predicted -- which is to say, most likely leaked -- well in advance of the smartphone's well-hyped unveiling. Then again, Apple signaled its biometric intentions in July 2012 with its $356 million acquisition of fingerprint reader manufacturer Authentec.

One year later, cue the debut of Touch ID, a 500 ppi scanner that "uses advanced capacitive touch to take, in essence, a high-resolution image of your fingerprint from the sub-epidermal layers of your skin," according to Apple. "It then intelligently analyzes this information with a remarkable degree of detail and precision."

[ Updating is not an option. See Apple iOS 7: 6 Reasons Enterprises Must Upgrade . ]

What are the potential security upsides of having an Apple-designed fingerprint scanner? Here are nine related facts:

1. Sensor Lives Where You Most Tap

The iPhone 5s puts the fingertip sensor inside the home button, meaning it's easy to find and use. "If you're lucky enough to get your fingers on an iPhone 5s, you will notice that the new Home button -- ironically, the moving part of an iPhone that most often breaks in my experience -- has a stainless steel ring around it, denoting where the Touch ID sensor is located," said security researcher Graham Cluley in a blog post. Still, Apple said the home button is now made from sapphire glass to make it more durable.

Users can store more than one fingerprint to make it easier to unlock an iPhone no matter how they're holding it. On the family and friends front, the iPhone 5s will store fingerprints -- appropriately enough -- for up to five people.

2. First Impression: Fingerprint Scanning Works

John Gruber, who runs the technology blog Daring Fireball -- and who's seen by many as an Apple evangelist -- got his hands on an iPhone 5s Tuesday and reported that Touch ID was "fairly quick to train, and once trained, it is really fast, and in my brief hands-on testing, very accurate." From a usability standpoint, waking the device involves pressing the home button, and leaving it there a moment longer leads to authentication and an unlock. "It's very impressive technology. I already feel silly tapping in my passcode to unlock my iPhone," he said.

3. Only Apple Touches Fingers

Touch ID isn't meant to replace all passwords or passcodes. In fact, use of the fingertip sensor has been restricted to unlocking the device or making purchases from Apple. So far, other iOS developers don't get to access to Touch ID. "It cannot currently be used to unlock anything else on your iPhone. In other words, it can't access iCloud, or your Keychain, or be used to log into third-party apps like Facebook," said Cluley.

4. Feature To Beat: Fingertip Sensor?

Given Apple's trend-setting capabilities, expect other smartphone manufacturers to follow suit on the biometric front. "Fingerprint-based identification technology is likely to be introduced by other manufacturers in the near future and may catch on as a mode of payment elsewhere as a result," said Ronan de Renesse, a principal analyst at market researcher Analysys Mason, in an emailed research note. He noted that Touch ID -- together with iOS 7, the 64-bit A7 processor and an improved camera -- represent Apple's bid to be more competitive in "in the upper-end of the smartphone market."

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Frank_Truth
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Frank_Truth,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/11/2013 | 5:18:43 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
I had problem with fingerprint scanners before on a safe I have. I gave up on it.

I am really disappointed in APPLE. I really hoped they would come out with a larger phone this year, and they didn't. I sold my APPLE stock following this latest announcement. I am through with APPLE..

Here is why a larger phone is needed.

1. For surfing the internet, the bigger the screen, the better. I often give up on using my iPhone for internet searches because the screen is just too damn small.

2. The itsy-bitsy keyboard is too tiny for my male fingers.

3. I am farsighted. I don't wear reading glasses during the day. I can't read the tiny letters on the iPhone.

4. The iPhone is too small for navigation and for finding locations on maps.

5. The iPhone now has THE smallest smart phone screen.

6. I am not suggesting that APPLE replace their phone with one that has a big honking screen. Somewhere between the size of the iPhone screen, and the largest smart phone screens there is a happy medium. Clearly most consumers want a phone with a screen larger than the one the iPhone has.

7. If APPLE increased the width of their phone so another row of icons could be displayed, it would not be hard to hold. it would still easily fit in a man's pant's pocket, it would make all the difference in the world.

APPLE could not afford to wait another year to make this change. Many people with iPhones have been waiting a long time for APPLE to increase the size of their phone. At the very least they ought to have come out with two models, one larger than the other.

They should have made their new iPhone more water resistant, more durable, with a longer battery life. APPLE is not using the profits they made from the iPhone to make it a better product. I feel sick. And I have lost a lot of money lately in APPLE stock which I will be selling.

Everyone I know who has an iPhone is migrating to other phones because the iPhone screen is too small for them. These customers will never come back to APPLE.

I just find it sad to see APPLE destroy such a great product.
SaeC448
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SaeC448,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/11/2013 | 5:47:23 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
As a user who's looking for a new smartphone because their 2 year term was up, this would be a good investment, but as an older user of the previous IPhone 5, I would not trade or upgrade just to get a fingerprint scanner. Security on that phone is already tight enough as it is, sure a fingerprint scanner will definitely toughen it up, but I would not upgrade in the middle of a 2yr term for it.
Cara Latham
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Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/11/2013 | 7:54:35 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
I agree. For those who are looking to upgrade after a longtime with one model, this one seems to be a good option. But this offers nothing to someone who has the current model.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/11/2013 | 8:21:16 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
I switch off a lot between using my thumb and index finger. I guess people will have to pick one.
Mathew
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Mathew,
User Rank: Moderator
9/11/2013 | 8:33:13 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
Shane, you should be able to store a profile for both on an iPhone 5S.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/11/2013 | 8:40:22 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
So either would work. Makes sense. Thanks Mathew!
Mathew
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Mathew,
User Rank: Moderator
9/19/2013 | 3:20:29 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
Latest info: 5 people can store scans of up to 5 fingertips (each)
Boilerplate
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Boilerplate,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/12/2013 | 4:03:52 AM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
So now the NSA will not only have your phone calls, texts and emails but you will willingly give up your fingerprints! Rock on, idjits.
Cara Latham
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Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/12/2013 | 5:53:53 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
While the fingertip is different from an actual fingerprint, what is to prevent law enforcement from simply switching to collect fingerprint data and using that method as part of its investigations?
Mathew
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Mathew,
User Rank: Moderator
9/19/2013 | 3:19:58 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
Cara, I think that would require a wholesale rewrite of related fingerprint collection and tracking software. In short, I don't think it would be easily compatible with existing approaches.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/12/2013 | 8:56:52 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
I'm going to wait and see whether the hacking community can do anything with fingerprint scanner before I consider an iPhone 5s. My sense is that the fingerprint scanner is more of a convenience feature than a security feature.
Mathew
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Mathew,
User Rank: Moderator
9/19/2013 | 3:19:05 PM
re: iPhone 5s Fingerprint Scanner: 9 Security Facts
As convenience features go, I think this will be quite useful. Also, even if hackers do find a way to breach this, they'd still need physical access to the device. Your typical "apple picking" mugger probably isn't going to be well-versed in the latest iPhone 5s biometric fingerprint evasion tactics.
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