Touch ID is a fingerprint recognition feature, designed and released by Apple Inc., and currently only available on the seventh generation of iPhone, the iPhone 5S. Apple says Touch ID is heavily integrated into iOS 7 on supported devices, allowing users to unlock their phone, as well as make purchases in the various Apple digital media stores (iTunes Store, the App Store, iBookstore), and since iOS 8 has opened up the Touch ID API, there's no telling where it could go next -- all by quickly using one of up to five fingerprints the user can store on their device. Apple hopes for this to, at least partially, replace the user entering their passcode or password, although these are available as a backup method, and must also be used instead of Touch ID upon a restart of the device. On announcing the feature, Apple made it clear that the fingerprint information is stored locally in a secure location on the Apple A7 chip on the device, rather than being cloud-based, making it very difficult for external access.
Only a few other smartphone makers have built fingerprint scanning into their phones, as with the Motorola Mobility Atrix 4G in 2011, although none of them were implemented into the operating system like Touch ID. The iPhone 5S is the first phone on a major US carrier since then to feature the technology.
In 2012 Apple acquired AuthenTec, a company focused on fingerprint reading and identification management software, for $356 million. Since then, people have expected a fingerprint reading feature.
A leak on September 3, 2013, suggested that the feature would be coming to the iPhone, while an alleged user guide showing the feature leaked just hours before the announcement came. Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um predicted on September 4, 2013, that a fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S would help mobile commerce and boost adoption in the corporate environment. "As consumers increasingly rely on mobile devices to transact and store personal data, a reliable device-side authentication solution may become a necessity", Um said.
Apple's Vice President of Marketing Phil Schiller announced the feature at Apple's iPhone media event on September 10, 2013, spending several minutes (the last major portion of the conference) discussing the feature.
Touch ID is built into the home button, which is now built of laser-cut sapphire crystal so as not to scratch (which would prevent Touch ID from working). It features a stainless steel detection ring to detect the user's finger without pressing it.
The sensor will use capacitive touch to detect the user's fingerprint. The sensor has a thickness of 170 µm, with 500 pixels per inch resolution. The user's finger can be oriented in any direction and it will still be read. Apple says it can read sub-epidermal skin layers, and it will be easy to set up and will improve with every use.
Security and privacy
Fingerprint data is stored on the secure enclave of the Apple A7 processor that is inside the device itself, and is not stored on Apple servers, nor on iCloud, and will not be available to third parties. If the user's phone has been rebooted, or has not been unlocked for 48 hours, only the user's passcode, not a fingerprint, can be used to unlock the phone.
In September 2013, the German Chaos Computer Club announced that it had bypassed Apple's Touch ID security. A spokesman for the group stated: "We hope that this finally puts to rest the illusions people have about fingerprint biometrics. It is plain stupid to use something that you can't change and that you leave everywhere every day as a security token." Others have also used Chaos Computer Club's method, but concluded that it is not an easy process in either time or effort, given the user has to use a high resolution photocopy of a complete fingerprint, special chemicals, and expensive equipment, and takes some time to achieve.
New York Magazine said that consumers are generally not interested in fingerprint recognition, preferring to use passcodes instead. Traditionally, they said, only businesspeople such as Bloomberg employees used biometric recognition, although they believe Touch ID may help bring fingerprint recognition to the masses. The magazine said the feature will also allow application developers to experiment, should Apple open-up access to Touch ID later on.
New York Magazine also noted that complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensors such as those found on Touch ID generally wear out and become unusable after some period of time. The magazine said that while Apple may have found a way to manufacture the sensors better, if they stop working, users may just switch back to using their passcode, making fingerprint recognition a non-starter once again. It also notes that fingerprint technology still has some issues, such as the potential to be hacked, or of the device not recognizing the fingerprint (for example when the finger has been injured).
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, writing for ZDNet, said Touch ID could be useful in bring your own device situations. He said that the biometric protection adds another layer of security, removing the ability of people to look over the shoulders of others and read their passcode/password. He added that Touch ID would prevent children from racking up thousands of dollars in unwanted purchases when using iPhones owned by adults. The author said that Touch ID was Apple's response to the large number of iPhone crimes, and that the new feature would deter would-be iPhone thieves. He notes that the feature is one of the few that distinguishes the iPhone 5S from the 5C. New York Magazine said the feature is intended to deter theft. Brent Kennedy, a vulnerability analyst at the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, expressed concern that Touch ID could be hacked and suggested that people not rely on it right away. Forbes noted a history of fingerprints being spoofed in the past, and noted that the fingerprints on a stolen iPhone might be used to gain unauthorized access. However, it did say that biometrics technology had improved since tests on spoofing fingerprint readers had been conducted.
ZDNet suggested the Touch ID as a form of two-factor authentication, whereby something one knows (the password) with something one has (the fingerprint). Forbes said that, if two-factor authentication is available, it will be an overall improvement for security.
Forbes columnist, Andy Greenberg, said the fact that fingerprint data was stored on the local device and not in a centralized database was a win for security, although fellow columnist, Joseph Steinberg, noted that such an approach could increase the risk of fingerprint information being compromised by malware.
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- Touch ID – official site