New Research Reveals Vulnerabilities in Smartphone Fingerprint Scanners

Researchers found patterns common to many fingerprints and used them to create fake prints

New Research Reveals Vulnerabilities in Smartphone Fingerprint Scanners
Image: Pixabay
April 12, 2017

Does your smartphone make you provide a fingerprint before it will unlock? If so, it isn't as safe as you might think.

New research from New York University and Michigan State University has revealed vulnerabilities in device fingerprint scanning technology.

The researchers looked at many different fingerprints and found patterns common to several. They then used those patterns to create fake "master" fingerprints that would trick the sensors and let them unlock the device.

These findings cast doubt on how secure this widely-used technology actually is. The "master" prints developed by the scientists were able to trick the sensor up to 65 percent of the time.

Most people believe that fingerprint scanners are more secure than passwords for unlocking a mobile device. According to Apple, the iPhone's Touch ID fingerprint scanner will match a user's print with someone else's only once in 50,000 tries.

The researchers warned that the technology for developing artificial physical fingerprints is improving very fast. Some tech companies seem aware of this and are working alternative methods for verifying the identity of a user. For instance, Samsung's new Galaxy S8 smartphone features facial recognition—which can be fooled by pictures—as well as an iris scanner.