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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Calm down, Senator Al

20

September

U.S. Sen. Al Franken is worried. He's asking Apple for more information about the fingerprint sensor built into its new iPhone 5s, saying it could be potentially disastrous for users if hacked. While a password can be kept a secret and changed if its hacked, he points out, fingerprints are permanent and are left on everything a person touches, making them far from secret.

What the heck?

I like Al Franken, so I'm really working hard to give him the benefit of the doubt here — but I can't figure out where he's coming from.

Is he worried that someone might get ahold of a fingerprint-locked iPhone 5s and reverse engineer someone's fingerprint? Could someone steal your phone, sit down for an unintentionally hilarious cinematic hacking session and engineer a set of fingerprint gloves, or something, and leave your prints behind as they commit a series of heinous crimes? Unlikely. The iPhone 5s isn't some police booking sergeant, taking an image of your complete fingerprint. The electromagnetic signals it reads from the living layer of cells beneath the surface of your skin are just as unique — but CSI doesn't find them left behind at a crime scene. Apple has already explained all this in a pretty public fashion.

Or is he worried your iPhone 5s isn't secure because you're already leaving your prints on everything you touch, poke or prod? That doesn't make sense, either, for the same reason. That iPhone 5s sensor doesn't read an image of your print. You can't fool it using a print you lifted from someone's dirty wine glass. That trick you saw on Mythbusters? It won't work here.

What's more — and this is comforting and disturbing at the same time — thieves won't be able to unlock your phone by cutting off your finger and slapping it against the sensor on your iPhone 5s. Those signals it reads come from living cells. Unless they can separate Sen. Al's finger from the rest of him and get it onto his phone within just a few moments, it'll be useless to everyone concerned.

Although come to think of it, if there's someone willing to lop off your finger for almost any reason, you probably have more to worry about than just what's on your phone.

[Last modified: Friday, September 20, 2013 11:48pm]

    

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