The Times of India (TOI)
September 16, 2013
The pain of rustling up and remembering passwords will soon be a thing of the past following recent developments in online security and identification. Surveys show that an average person is required to recall at least 10 unique passwords and personal identification numbers (PIN) for workday online logins and transactions. But this memory stress may soon get relief. The latest iPhone, 5s, has taken a swipe at it, making a big impression with a fingerprint reader called Touch ID.
Introduced in a low-key manner during the launch of the new iPhones earlier this week (at the very end of the presentation) by Apple executives, the Touch ID fingerprint scanner will enable a quicker access to the user’s device while preventing unauthorized users from accessing a device's data, an increasingly frequent occurrence because of password breaches. The technology comes mainly from the $356 million acquisition Apple made in 2012 of the firm AuthenTec, which specialized in fingerprint scans, and which in turn had acquired firms such as EzValidation.
Apple isn’t the first phone make, much less tech company, to introduce fingerprint scanning on smartphones. Motorola did it in 2011, using the technology in its Atrix smartphone. In fact, Sony is credited with introducing the world’s first thumb drive with a fingerprint scanner as far back as 2003. But the technology was still in its infancy and reportedly threw up too many errors.
Apple claims to have better technology. More importantly, it says the fingerprint data will be stored on the device and encrypted, and will not be backed up to iCloud.
The development, involving major advances in biometrics, opens up a whole range of possibility. Scans will eventually be used not just to open smartphones and other devices, but also conduct other transactions. All it needs—even with the occasional glitch—is for the technology to acquire the critical mass it needs, which should come easily with the mass selling Apple smartphones.
Of course, there will always be concerns about the biometric data too falling into wrong hands. Some experts have gone so far as to raise concerns about criminals chopping off peoples’ fingers to again access to prints.
''Thieves in some regions have worked out that you can force a victim to unlock a secured device, and in some extreme cases have also mutilated victims in order to steal their fingerprint,'' Marc Rogers, chief researcher at mobile security firm Lookout, was quoted as saying.
But while it is still hackable, the consensus among security experts is that fingers and fingerprint scans will not be as vulnerable as passwords and PINs, many of which are daftly simple.
One recent survey showed that 10% of all PINs is the number 1234; many people use their birthdays. Passwords too are mostly the hometown or pet name of a person. At least one will not be able to second guess or fake your fingerprint. Not just yet, in any case, although human resourcefulness and cunning knows no bounds.
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