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Inside the iPhone 5S Touch ID scanner: how does the iPhone fingerprint scanner work

Mark Hattersley | Sept. 13, 2013
How does the iPhone 5S fingerprint scanner work, how secure and private is Touch ID.

It can't be used by third-party apps either, so no other app you have on your phone will be able to access the Touch ID sensor. This strikes us as an eminently sensible move, given that many people would be concerned about apps that scan their fingerprints.

AllThingsD has confirmed with Apple that iOS developers will not be given access to fingerprints or the sensor technology. It's unclear if that will always be the case, but it's worth noting that Apple could quite easily never allow any further access to the Touch ID sensor. It's probably gauging the public reaction.

What devices have Touch ID
For now the only device that has Touch ID is the iPhone 5S, it hasn't been announced for the iPhone 5C or any other Apple device. It seems likely that Apple will roll the technology out to other Apple products eventually, especially the iPod touch (which shares its feature set with the iPhone). It may also come to the iPad, although it'll be interesting to see how Touch ID handles the different orientations that the iPad can be held in when unlocking compared to the iPhone. Whether it eventually makes it to the Mac is another thing; maybe Apple will see how it goes on the iPhone.

Why is Touch ID such a big deal?
It's an interesting move from Apple, especially given the light of the current security concerns following the NSA scandal. On a practical level though it's been clear for a while that Apple needs to beef up the security of its devices. While Apple can't be held responsible for thefts; there's little doubting that Apple devices remain quite 'nick-able', and Apple has been asked by numerous sources (including ourselves) to make life harder for iPhone thieves.

iOS 7 seems more determined than ever to up the number of people using Passcodes (currently estimated to be about half of all iPhone users) and prevents thieves from wiping the device is they do not have access to your Apple ID.

At the same time Apple has to make sure that it doesn't lessen the iPhone experience by constantly nagging people to enter four digit pin codes. Especially if people didn't really want to do this in the first place. The Touch ID sensor is a great solution: Apple gets more security on its device and requires nothing more from Apple customers than a touch of the finger.

How private is my fingerprint?Your fingerprint is stored locally on the device, and should — theoretically — never leave it. Apple has explicitly stated that: "All fingerprint information is encrypted and stored securely inside the Secure Enclave inside the A7 chip on the iPhone 5S: it's never stored on Apple's servers or backed up to iCloud."


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