Biometric security has been around for a while, but with Apple’s move to implement it into the home button of the iPhone 5S — branded as Touch ID — the technology is set to become mainstream. As you know, Apple isn’t the first to build a fingerprint scanner into a phone, but previous attempts have failed to launch a trend among smartphone manufacturers. Touch ID is laying the ground for the next-generation smartphone identification, which — considering the rising number of iDevice thefts — makes many of us future iPhone 5s users wonder: Is my finger safe?
The question tops previous privacy concerns about Apple collecting fingerprints. The latter was dismissed by Apple: the Touch ID fingerprint sensor uses radio frequency scanning to detect the sub-epidermal layers of the user’s skin. This answers both of the aforementioned questions.
First of all: yes, the finger is safe from being mutilated to open up the iPhone, because it requires the finger to be alive. Secondly, Apple doesn’t store an image of your fingerprint, and third, it doesn’t collect it: it is stored locally on the iPhone.
Here is what Sebastien Taveau, chief technology officer at a California-based provider of fingerprint sensor solutions, Validity Sensors, says about the Touch ID (via Mashable):
“No one in biometrics wants to talk about cut fingers and dead bodies, but at the end of the day we are still asked to remove the fears of consumer and make sure that they understand that [a severed finger] will not work.”
By the way, Mary Branscombe of CiteWorld brought this up right after the announcement. Here is why our fingers are safe:
With the new sensors you don’t have to move your finger, just press it against the reader. And like the sensor in the iPhone 5S, the sensors that will be in laptops and keyboards and other phones can detect the ridge and valley pattern of your fingerprint not from the layer of dead skin on the outside of your finger (which a fake finger can easily replicate), but from the living layer of skin under the surface of your finger, using an RF signal. That only works on a live finger; not one that’s been severed from your body.
This will protect you from thieves trying to chop off your finger when they mug you for your phone (assuming they’re tech-literate thieves, of course), as well as from people with fake fingers using the fingerprint they lifted from your phone screen.
So in the end, users can relax; they won’t end up mutilated by thieves just to open up the iPhone. It remains to be seen what hackers can do with the backup passcode, which opens up the iPhone without the need for a fingerprint.