5 bad signs for Apple's iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner

A few issues to consider about Apple’s Touch ID biometric authentication solution for the iPhone 5s.

When Apple announced its new iPhone 5s last week, the fingerprint scanning technology, called Touch ID, stood out as one of the most notable additions. The benefits are easy enough to identify – iPhone users will no longer need to repeatedly type in an annoying security PIN code to unlock their phones or download apps or media from iTunes.

Even better, those who have tried the technology first-hand seem to be largely satisfied. However, before designating the iPhone’s new security feature a win, a few issues need to be considered.

Just over a year ago, a report published on Elcomsoft’s blog cracking passwords highlighted “a huge security hole” with fingerprint reader security in laptops sold by 16 companies, including Acer, ASUS, Dell, IBM and Samsung. The fingerprint-reading software that came preinstalled on these laptops stored the Windows user passwords in plain text, according to the report. This violated a pretty basic security policy, which Microsoft itself advises its users to adopt – don’t store Windows passwords on the PC.

Of course, this is just one example, and it’s since been resolved. Still, at the time, the vulnerability was considered “extremely broad” by the researchers who found it, as it somehow made it past Microsoft and the 16 manufacturers that shipped the laptops.

Worse still, the software responsible for the flaw was owned by Authentec, the biometric company that Apple bought for $356 million last year so it could develop fingerprint sensor technology for the iPhone 5s. Small world.

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