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iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner could be mobile security game changer

Tony Bradley | Sept. 20, 2013
Apple isn't the first to introduce fingerprint authentication on a mobile device, but it could be the one to make it mainstream.

Henry also has some concerns about just how much access someone gets if the fingerprint authentication is bypassed or compromised. "If a single fingerprint grants access to other services (particularly iCloud), that's a frightening prospect if Apple hasn't done a truly expert job at securing that local credential," he says.

Should you use it?
Dwayne Melancon, CTO for Tripwire, says, "In general, multifactor authentication is a good idea and biometrics, in particular, are good as long as they work properly. Early reports of Apple's biometric implementation are promising, and even if there is some rate of false identification, this approach is still more secure than a four-digit PIN."

One crucial thing for IT admins to understand is how device access works in the event that the fingerprint scanner is not an option. What if a user breaks their finger and it's in a cast, or the home button fingerprint sensor malfunctions?

"From an enterprise perspective, I would wait until the security of this implementation of fingerprint scanning has been tested 'in real life' before adopting it broadly," Melancon cautions.

Making it mainstream
Biometric security is nothing new, but it has yet to really catch on as a mainstream method of authentication. The password or passcode remains king. Apple has a huge market presence, though, and the iOS ecosystem commands a great deal of respect. If the iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner lives up to expectations, this could be the tipping point that turns it into the new default standard.

If Apple stumbles or falls on its face, though, it could set biometric security back a few years. If there are too many false negatives or false positives, or it turns out that the fingerprint data isn't stored as securely as it should be, or there are other problems with the fingerprint scanner, it will tarnish the reputation of biometrics with average users, and it will take a long time to recover.

 

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