By Nate Adcock on Tue, 09/10/2013
Apple is touting its new fingerprint-scanning security in the latest iPhone 5S as, "making something as important as security so effortless, so simple. We believe that technology is at its very best, and its most empowering, when it simply disappears." As anyone who has worked in the field of security knows, to accomplish this is not a small order and the devil is in the details. Most online services use two-factor security as well as encryption for a reason—because for every security apparatus that you put in place, there will probably appear multiple hacks to circumvent it. That said, Apple is boldly implementing a technology that was been tried before. Based on today's press event, it may change the way we authenticate to our iPhones and even the way we authorize purchases from them.
I remember fingerprint-reading technology in handhelds from 10 years ago, and it was swipe-based, buggy, and erratic. Apple promises to change all that with their new TouchID fingerprint scanner. The sensor is built under the Home button, which is made from cut sapphire crystal and includes a stainless steel detection ring. Presumably you place your finger on the contact (or press down on it), and voila! Instant phone access. No more passcodes or phrases.
Not only will the sensor identify you for phone access (and get smarter as you use it), it can also be used to authenticate iTunes purchases. The information is stored at NSA-level encryption on the A7 chip (not in the Cloud), so hopefully that allays some security fears. The sensor is capacitive, and only 170 microns thin. It scans at 500ppi resolution (down to the sub-epidermal skin layers), and in 360 degrees, so finger orientation should not be a problem. It can also learn multiple fingers, and even allow you to set up profiles on your phone for multiple users.
So, is this a boon for iPhone users, and something that will set Apple well apart from the pack once again? It depends on three things: how well it works in practice, how secure the storage of the biometric data is, and whether it can somehow be spoofed. For now, I am cautiously optimistic, and must say it certainly sounds simpler than passcodes or logging into iTunes constantly. If it works well, it will be another big win for Apple!