What the iPhone 5s Means for Security

Apple took stage on September 10th at their Town Hall Cupertino Campus to reveal iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s. The budget iPhone has been purported to increase Apple’s market share in countries like China and India (although investors aren’t too sure about its current price point), while the hallmark feature of the iPhone 5s is the new Touch ID.

The Touch ID acts as a fingerprint reader and allows users to unlock or lock the device as well as make purchases from the App Store. The main aim of the feature is to enhance the security of the device, and it is perhaps the most exciting introduction, according to Bluebox’s co-founder Adam Ely.

So does that mean iPhone 5s is the breakthrough in smartphone security? Well, there have been mixed reactions so far.

According to Information week, some hackers hold the opinion that an attack by what they call the ‘phish finger’ can be used to take the fingerprint of the user from the touchscreen of the device and use it to unlock critical data. The software that transforms the fingerprint into the image is also potentially vulnerable to attacks.

Encap’s CEO Bostrom Jorgensen considers Touch ID a significant introduction, but he also says it’s not a magic bullet. There are some social methods that can be used to steal fingerprints of the users, such as taking a print from a menu card or a coffee cup.

Another major (and particularly morbid) concern is that thieves can chop the fingers of iPhone 5s owners and use them to unlock the device as well as make App Store purchases with the authentication.

Furthermore, users won’t be able to unlock the device while wearing gloves and they would need to rely on the old passcode method in this situation. The use of the sensor is also limited because app developers working on mobile security for iPhone won’t be able to modify it according to Apple. The Cupertino tech giant believes it would lead to security and privacy issues that won’t be good for their PR.

However, Mary Branscome from CITEWorld says that the Touch ID is going to be compatible only with live fingers, so finger chopping shouldn’t even be a concern. She mentions that sensors rely on an RF signal to sense the living layer of the skin and doesn’t work for the outside of the finger containing dead skin. Also, the sensor used on iPhone 5s makes use of the latest technology and is far better than the one that was used on Motorola Atrix.

Apple also said right after showcasing the device that the fingerprints aren’t backed up on the iCloud and remain in the A7 chip where they are transformed into a hash. This was in response to the concerns that NSA would gain access to the fingerprints.

Moreover, the high-end version of the iPhone will be running iOS 7 straight out of the box. Apple has said that Find My iPhone for this particular firmware version would ask for an Apple ID and password whenever someone tries to disable it, making it harder than ever for thieves to gain access to the device.

While there might be loopholes discovered in fingerprint technology as time passes by, it’s safe to say that the phone definitely brings security advancements.

The iPhone 5s went on sale on September 20th in online and brick and mortar stores. Since then, there have been reports of Apple Store employees showcasing the use of Touch ID.

Do you think the iPhone 5s takes security to another level? Feel free to leave comments.


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