Apple isn’t the first company to introduce a fingerprint scanner on a mobile device, but if any company is going to take the concept mainstream they would be the ones to do it. Popularizing the concept with Touch ID isn’t going to ease concerns about the security of this particular form of security, however. In fact, it will (and already has) only raise more questions.
Apple preemptively eased worries at their announcement event by clarifying the fingerprint data would only be stored locally and never on Apple’s servers or iCloud. Instead, mention of the iPhone 5S storing an “image” of a user’s fingerprint locally was enough to set off alarms for some.
Apple has clarified that at no point does the iPhone 5S generate an actual photographic reproduction of a user’s fingerprint. When Apple’s Dan Riccio said, “The sensor uses advanced capacitive touch to take, in essence, a high-resolution image of your fingerprint,” the key words were “in essence.” What is actually stored is a data set representing a fingerprint.
Nevertheless, Touch ID is not infallible, and Apple knows this. In order to add an additional layer of security, if an iPhone has been restarted or hasn’t been unlocked for over 48 hours, the system will require a password to unlock. This should help keep phone thieves out of personal data, especially if they shut the phone down to avoid being tracked.
Apple also knows that the system isn’t perfect. Touch ID will require a relatively clean fingerprint scan. Sweat and moisture will make it harder for the iPhone to read fingerprint input.
But even with its limitations, Touch ID has a chance to revolutionize the way we secure and protect the data within in our smartphones, and Apple has pulled off the concept quite well at first glance. The true test is seeing how it operates in the real world.