Apple further details new Touch ID fingerprint sensor, notes system is not flawless

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
One day after Apple introduced the iPhone 5s with embedded Touch ID fingerprint sensor, more details about the new feature's functionality have emerged, including certain failsafes built into the system, as well as limitations that come with any cutting-edge technology.

Touch ID


As noted in Tuesday's iPhone event coverage, Apple is debuting a new biometric authentication and security method in Touch ID, a capacitive fingerprint sensor integrated into the iPhone 5s' home button. While the technology was briefly covered during the presentation, an Apple spokesman elaborated on the tech in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

The person confirmed that Touch ID does not store fingerprint images on-board, nor does the method upload gathered information to off-site servers like iCloud. Instead, encrypted "fingerprint data" is placed in a secure enclave in Apple's A7 SoC, which is used to digitally verify users who want to gain access to the phone and its features.

This setup adds a bit of extra security for the extremely sensitive personal data. Even if a thief or cracker managed to obtain the A7 chip, the replication or reading of a user's fingerprint would be an unlikely scenario.

Also of note is how Apple chose to implement security safeguards and backup systems to go along with the new hardware. First, a user must enter a passcode to initiate the iPhone 5s' biometric capabilities. As a protection against nefarious users trying to bypass the security measure, only this code can be used to unlock a device after it's been rebooted or has been left unlocked for more than 48 hours.

Apple cautions that the Touch ID sensor is not perfect and will give inaccurate readings in some cases, especially when a finger is moist. This is due to the capacitive "image" the sensor array captures. Moisture or other conductive debris on a finger could give false readings.

In addition, Touch ID may have trouble identifying fingers with scarring from surgical procedures or accidents. Simply using another finger solves the problem, but makes the system more cumbersome to use.

It can be speculated that scar tissue may generate a blank reading for the sensor as the module only scans live tissue. Another possibility is that the algorithms used to power the system may simply reject scarred areas as they don't fit with a fingerprint's natural peaks and valleys.

Finally, the Apple representative said that third party apps will not have access to fingerprint data. This may change with later iterations of iOS, though the feature will not be available to developers on rollout.

Further testing is required to pinpoint the exact capabilities and operational functions of the sensor, which will be covered by AppleInsider shortly after the 5s is released on Sept. 20.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 64
    Oh no. Duck! TouchIDgate alert!!
  • Reply 2 of 64
    everyone jumping on the NSA bandwagon is getting a bit boring, and it doesn't matter what apple or anyone else says, the paranoid will always think the government is out to get them
  • Reply 3 of 64
    kevinneal wrote: »
    everyone jumping on the NSA bandwagon is getting a bit boring, and it doesn't matter what apple or anyone else says, the paranoid will always think the government is out to get them

    Who wouldn't? It's just a matter of time.

    Me? I don't care. If you're not doing anything illegal you shouldn't have to worry about them. Is it wrong? Well, yes. But the sad truth is that we are all screwed. World control is coming. That is not in question. It's just a matter of time. Just a matter of time...
  • Reply 4 of 64
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    kevinneal wrote: »
    everyone jumping on the NSA bandwagon is getting a bit boring, and it doesn't matter what apple or anyone else says, the paranoid will always think the government is out to get them

    In the case of this government it is out to get you.
  • Reply 5 of 64
    alfiejralfiejr Posts: 1,524member

    for heavin's sake ... got a drivers license? then your thumbprint is already in the NSA data base. and all my fingers' prints are. if you were ever arrested or even involved in an investigation, so are yours.

     

    sorry, children. that horse left the barn decades ago.

  • Reply 6 of 64
    eckergus wrote: »
    Who wouldn't? It's just a matter of time.

    Me? I don't care. If you're not doing anything illegal you shouldn't have to worry about them. Is it wrong? Well, yes. But the sad truth is that we are all screwed. World control is coming. That is not in question. It's just a matter of time. Just a matter of time...

    Unfortunately, there are too many people like you out there! I'm as much worried about the private companies and financial institutions and their collection and use and abuse of our personal data, and the governments access to it.
  • Reply 7 of 64
    No access for developers? It has so much potential though ...
  • Reply 8 of 64
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    eckergus wrote: »
    Who wouldn't? It's just a matter of time.

    Me? I don't care. If you're not doing anything illegal you shouldn't have to worry about them.
    That attitude is the biggest problem we have right now in this country.
    Is it wrong? Well, yes. But the sad truth is that we are all screwed.
    If it is wrong then shouldn't we do something about it? We can start by not electing democrats and republicans that don't respect the constitution. In this case the democrats are especially evil as they are hell bent on repressing any sort of uprising against their policies.
    World control is coming. That is not in question. It's just a matter of time. Just a matter of time...

    When you come to a fork in the river it is up to you to make a choice. In that regard we can either account or reject the policies of our current government. Reject the policies and the river will be filled with rapids and other dangers, but we have weathers such social problems before. We got through the Vietnam era which is possibly the most recent example of the population and the government being out of sync. The only thing we need now is for people to give a damn.
  • Reply 9 of 64

    seems like for an increasing number of people paranoia is their default state, and every news item is reduced down to a ridiculous conspiracy theory. Its like a wave of mental illness sweeping the world

  • Reply 10 of 64
    alfiejr wrote: »
    for heavin's sake ... got a drivers license? then your thumbprint is already in the NSA data base. and all my fingers' prints are. if you were ever arrested or even involved in an investigation, so are yours.

    sorry, children. that horse left the barn decades ago.

    If you're a legal immigrant into the US (like I am), all ten of your fingers are in the database.
  • Reply 11 of 64
    The tech media has already prepared articles declaring Touch ID an embarrassing failure, awaiting for it to actually fail to release for publication.
  • Reply 12 of 64
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by eckergus View Post





    Who wouldn't? It's just a matter of time.



    Me? I don't care. If you're not doing anything illegal you shouldn't have to worry about them. Is it wrong? Well, yes. But the sad truth is that we are all screwed. World control is coming. That is not in question. It's just a matter of time. Just a matter of time...

     

    It's the reptilians. Chariots of the Gods, man; they practically own South America.

  • Reply 13 of 64
    freerange wrote: »
    I'm as much worried about the private companies and financial institutions and their collection and use and abuse of our personal data, and the governments access to it.

    You have the right fire your 'private' companies. You don't have that right with your government.
  • Reply 14 of 64
    Im getting the gold one.
  • Reply 15 of 64
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Alfiejr View Post

     

    for heavin's sake ... got a drivers license? then your thumbprint is already in the NSA data base. and all my fingers' prints are. if you were ever arrested or even involved in an investigation, so are yours.

     

    sorry, children. that horse left the barn decades ago.


     

    What is the heck state do you live in the takes your thumbprint for a drivers license? That has to be illegal. That's insane. I wouldn't get a drivers license if I had to do that.

     

    And all this NSA stuff is just BS. It's never going to leave the phone. Too many developers will dig deep into this phone and Apple has too much to lose if they aren't isolating/encrypting the fingerprint on the phone and the developers find out.

    If people are really that paranoid they shouldn't have a phone with a webcam on the front. The government will have your picture and track your phone and photoshop your face doing illegal things and lock you up with no trial forever. I mean, come on. This isn't Europe.

  • Reply 16 of 64
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,677member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by reydn View Post



    No access for developers? It has so much potential though ...

     

    I agree, it definitely does have potential, however direct access may not be necessary if Apple implements it in the KeyChain services (iOS and iCloud). The system may allow the user to enter the KeyChain password (fingerprint) for access to 3rd party services and web sites that make use of the services bypassing the need to remember every password.

  • Reply 17 of 64
    reydn wrote: »
    No access for developers? It has so much potential though ...
    Developers will have access to the APIs that provide fingerprint authentication services. Apps will not and should not have access to the actual fingerprint data. No need.
  • Reply 18 of 64
    The tech media has already prepared articles declaring Touch ID an embarrassing failure, awaiting for it to actually fail to release for publication.
    Don't believe you. Sources or it's BS.
  • Reply 19 of 64
    nexusphan wrote: »
    What is the heck state do you live in the takes your thumbprint for a drivers license? That has to be illegal. That's insane. I wouldn't get a drivers license if I had to do that.

    And all this NSA stuff is just BS. It's never going to leave the phone. Too many developers will dig deep into this phone and Apple has too much to lose if they aren't isolating/encrypting the fingerprint on the phone and the developers find out.
    If people are really that paranoid they shouldn't have a phone with a webcam on the front. The government will have your picture and track your phone and photoshop your face doing illegal things and lock you up with no trial forever. I mean, come on. This isn't Europe.
    I must explain this again: the actual fingerprint is not stored, only a hash value that is calculated from the print. This computation is a one way operation. Thus the hash cannot be used to derive the original fingerprint. When you later scan your finger, the same calculation is performed and the two hashes are compared. As well, since this scans multiple layers, a lifted print from a glass or other surface will not suffice to authenticate.
    No one is getting your fingerprint from this phone; maybe other places, but not the phone :-)
  • Reply 20 of 64
    gtrgtr Posts: 3,231member

    If the sensor ever fails to read your finger print there is a workaround that can be implemented using another appendage.

     

    However, this implementation cannot be used by females...

     

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