Touch ID

Is the iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner really superior?

September 19, 2013: 2:43 PM ET

Fortune asked security experts to weigh in.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 1.45.26 PMFORTUNE -- When Apple (AAPL) introduced the iPhone 5s earlier this month, one of the features it touted was Touch ID, a fingerprint-scanner built into the home button at the bottom of the device. Users may simply touch the home button to unlock their phone and even authenticate iTunes purchases, instead of inputting a custom 4-digit passcode used by previous iPhones.

But just how secure is Touch ID, really? Is it a nifty gimmick, or truly better security for user data?

Likely the latter. According to Marc Rogers, a security researcher for the mobile security startup Lookout, Apple's implementation of fingerprint scanning trumps the old method for myriad reasons. Across both Android (GOOG) and iOS devices, just over 50% of users use the four-digit passcode feature. Having it boosts security, but it also seems many just can't be bothered with wasting a few seconds each time to log in. "People see them as barriers, and they try to avoid having too many barriers," explains Rogers.

MORE: iOS7 adoption rate: 29% of Apple's customers in first 16 hours

Touch ID should make the process easier, at least in theory. Initially, users have to to set up the feature by having their fingerprint scanned and stored on the device -- a process that takes several moments. From every instance on, unlocking the phone means simply pressing the home button as one normally would. If that's the case, more iOS users are likely to turn the feature on. It doesn't add a pesky extra step in everyday user experience: just touch and go.

As for the tech itself, Rogers explains fingerprint scanning as a whole is more secure than the four-digit passcode. Copying someone's fingerprints remains a cumbersome process, not to mention pricey -- as much as $200,000, by some estimates. And at the risk of sounding morbid, using severed fingers apparently isn't an option either. (However, cat paws work.) Which is to say, that barring a targeted hack, iPhone 5s owners should rest assured their data is just as secure as it ever was.

"It's your phone -- we're not launching missiles here," jokes Bruce Schneier, a security technologist. "We're looking for a little bit of security, and I think Touch ID is a really great idea for that."

What about you, Fortune readers? Is Touch ID overhyped or a big step in mobile security? Weigh in in the comments below. 

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.