The launch of Apple’s iPhone 5s (thoroughly covered in almost every news outlet), sees what has been widely reported as the first use of fingerprint recognition technology in mobile. Actually the Motorola Atrix, launched in 2011, also used fingerprint technology to unlock the device.
If course facial recognition software has been available in Android phones for some time (indeed since Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich) but fingerprint recognition – regularly used in the laptop market – has (to date) not appeared on mobile phones.
Fingerprint technology is not automatically more secure than passwords or passcodes. For one thing you cannot change your fingerprint if it is compromised – although obviously it is much harder to compromise than a simple four digital passcode. In the case of Apple’s new product we suspect that the main reason behind integrating the fingerprint technology into the new phone is to make it easier for people to conduct simple tasks. For example it saves having to input your Apple ID every time you wish to download an app.
Besides the obvious issues around cut fingers, plasters and bandages, or even – god forbid – amputations, fingerprint ID also raises other important issues. Many people allow others, particularly family members, to use their devices. Apple claims that the fingerprint ID technology will support multiple fingers. But whilst users might be happy to allow their children to use their phone to play games, for example, on a car journey, they are unlikely to want their children to have unfettered access to their Apple ID to download games, or make in app purchases. This kind of convenience factor may mean many people decide not to use fingerprint ID at all, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to handset theft and, more importantly, fraud.
Biometrics has a significant role to play in mobile security, but it is still in its infancy. The reality is that one method of unlocking a phone will probably not be enough in the future. Expect to see more than one input required (for example, a fingerprint and a passcode). As phones continue to gather our identities, so the need to secure them becomes more critical.