IPhone Fingerprint Sensor Cracked, Researchers Call Tech "Plain Stupid"
September 23, 2013 1:01 PM
Chaos Computer Club unlocks iPhones with high resolution-image based tactic, points out legal dangers
For iPhone owners that use the fingerprint sensor as a password, be aware that it's pretty much useless from a security perspective. It turns out that as with past inexpensive fingerprint readers, the system could easily be tricked by showing it a photograph of the target's fingerprint.
A site sponsored a crowd-funded competition to see who could be the first to crack the security feature found on the new Apple, Inc. (
. The prize -- which
included a pledge of $10,000 USD from a Chicago-based venture capital fund
-- attracted a lot of attention.
I. CCC Makes Short Work of Apple's Supposedly Secure Sensor
It appears that the first group to successfully circumvent the sensor's security was
Chaos Computer Club
a German hacker ring
that has accomplished many challenging hacks and exploits over the years.
The trick -- as a CCC member who goes by the handle "Starbug" states -- is to use at least 2,400 dots per inch (dpi) for the photograph of the target's fingerprint, and 1,200 dpi for the printed copy.
"Starbug", "In reality, Apple's sensor has just a higher resolution compared to the sensors so far. So we only needed to ramp up the resolution of our fake. As we have said now for more than years, fingerprints should not be used to secure anything. You leave them everywhere, and it is far too easy to make fake fingers out of lifted prints."
The hack is demonstrated in a video posted by the CCC to YouTube:
The only "trick" outside the resolution is that you need to print onto a transparent sheet and after printing; you need to lift the fingerprint onto a polymer using "pink latex milk or white woodglue". The latex layer is then cured and lifted, and breathed upon to "make it a tiny bit moist and then placed onto the sensor to unlock the phone."
Don't make it too moist, though as the fingerprint sensor can
only be used with "dry" fingers
The iPhone 5S's sensor can easily be tricked with a "fake finger". [Image Source: Apple]
It's important to note that the only part of the process that involves the target user -- getting their fingerprint -- can be done quickly and surreptitiously. The remaining steps can be taken at their own pace at a secure location of the unlocker's choosing.
II. Another Danger -- Police Seizing Your Data
CCC spokesperson Frank Rieger chides Apple and others for proliferating the myth of security regarding fingerprint-based biometrics. He states:
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. The public should no longer be fooled by the biometrics industry with false security claims. Biometrics is fundamentally a technology designed for oppression and control, not for securing everyday device access.
The group raises another interesting point regarding smartphone unlocking and legality. The group writes:
Also, you can easily be forced to unlock your phone against your will when being arrested. Forcing you to give up your (hopefully long) passcode is much
harder under most jurisdictions
than just casually swiping your phone over your handcuffed hands.
If you get arrested, and have an iPhone with fingerprint unlock enabled, police can easily get ahold of your private data. [Image Source: BUSINESS, GOVERNMENT AND SOCIETY FIVE]
In other words, the supposed "crowning" feature on Apple's new smartphone
may be worse than worthless
-- it may be luring users into a false sense of security and compromising their data.
says the CCC was the first group or individual to report a successful hack on the sensor. The site is in the process of confirming the CCC's hack. Once confirmed they'll receive the horde of goodies, including sweet, sweet cash.
CCC [press release]
Is Touch ID Hacked Yet [YES!]
"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007
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