September 14th, 2017

iPhoneX: How secure is facial recognition?

Have additional questions? Ask Erik

To dig deeper, see this post on Wired:


Hello. Here is my iPhone 6S. Apple’s just coming out with the iPhone X. One of the big changes with this new phone is that they’re getting rid of the fingerprint sensor there so the screen can be larger. And instead of having biometric fingerprints, they’re gonna start using facial recognition to unlock your device. One of the big questions we’ve been asked recently is, “How secure is the Apple facial recognition?”

The quick answer is, it’s gonna be way more secure than the fingerprint recognition, in part because Apple only has access to a little bit of data on your fingerprint, not the entire fingerprint. They compress this and store it on the phone, and it’s been found that ti’s pretty easy to forge fingerprints, for example, using pictures of your fingerprint online or zooming into¬† photos of you. They’ve also been able to make master fingerprints that can open many people’s phones. So the fingerprint reader is pretty convenient and fairly secure, but not really great.

Another big concern about fingerprints versus passwords is the fact that the government can coerce you to open your phone with your finger, but they can’t coerce you to divulge your password to your phone. So for anybody who’s interested in a large amount of security, you should always use a long password and not use the biometrics.

Now with the facial recognition, Apple’s really using some great technology. They’re using an array of thousands of little infrared dots, along with the cameras, two cameras, to map our your face in three dimensions. Then they’re storing this data on the phone just like the fingerprints. The data’s not being stored with Apple. As a result of this, they have a lot of data, and it’s not possible to forge your face just by using a photo, for example. Someone would have to build a 3D model of your face and somehow maybe do some animations of it in order to fake it out. Probably this’ll happen, and it probably won’t take that long to happen, but the effort required is probably pretty high for most people. Another thing to know is that the facial recognition will not trigger if your eyes are closes. So your son or daughter can’t just take the phone up to your face while you’re sleeping and unlock it. Key point.

It’s more secure than fingerprints, but it has the same problem with government that fingerprints do. The government can force you to unlock the phone with your face, but they can’t force you to unlock the phone with your passcode. So use a passcode if you want. One other feature worth mentioning with the iPhone X, and all new versions of the iPhone that are coming out with iOS 11, is a feature where if you tap on the home button five times in a row, it will turn off biometrics. Whether using fingerprints or facial recognition, this sort of emergency mode will allow you to immediately disable biometrics so that no one can force you to use biometrics to open your phone. That’s another option for people who want the convenience, but want to be able to disable it on a whim.

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