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Your fingers are safe: Severed digits can't fool fingerprint scanners

Authored by: Kris Carlon — Sep 17, 2013

It didn't take long for this news to hit the shelves after the reveal of Apple's new iPhone 5s which features a fingerprint scanner as an additional layer of security. The HTC One Max also looks set to include the technology and undoubtedly this will become a standard for all smartphones to come. But how many of you have wondered if the plague proportions of ''apple picking'' (smartphone theft) will soon mutate into ''apple and finger picking''?

Keep your fingers off my fingers! / ©

Never fear, Hannibal Lecter, Leatherface and Norman Bates are not likely to get into the black market for stolen smartphones and tablets anytime soon. Despite their penchant for collecting various body parts, we have been assured that the iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner won't work with a dead finger. No one has tried this out as far as I'm aware, but we're happy to take their word for it, and spread the word to any would-be phone- and finger-thiefs.

The reason a severed finger can't fool the scanner is twofold: the technology relies on both capacitive technology (where the body's slight electrical current is transmitted to the device) and radio frequency (RF) waves to function. The RF waves are the clincher here: these waves penetrate the outer layer of the skin (and any dirt or scars) to read the living tissue underneath, where your nice clean fingerprint lives. So there's no chance a chopped-off digit will still work.

iPhone5S 5
Good news: all things should remain where they are. / © Apple

Even with a suitably battery-charged finger, any light-fingered thief would then also need to bypass your other security measures, be they a password, PIN- or pattern-lock. I suspect if someone had just relieved you from the ability to count to ten you'd be pretty unwilling to offer up that information, so chances are this added layer of security will remain exactly in the place it was always meant to be. So you can hold on tight to your iPhone, and your fingers.

Source: TUAW

Kris Carlon comes to the AndroidPIT Editorial Team via a lengthy period spent traveling and relying on technology to keep him in touch with the outside world. He joined the Android community while resurfacing in civilization back in 2010 and has never looked back, using technology to replace his actual presence in other people's lives ever since. He can usually be found juggling three phones at once and poring over G+ posts, Reddit and RSS feeds.


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  • I have a bank account, where the cash machines have been using this tech for quote a while instead of a PIN. There's never been a breach, IP till now.... (no, Apple didn't invent it, lol)

  • Kris Carlon
    • Admin
    • Staff
    Sep 19, 2013 Link to comment

    Hey Gio, I can only assume there's a bypass feature to open the phone without the fingerprint, but then that means this isn't really an ''added'' layer of security but rather an alternative layer. If the fingerprint thieves are stumped by the scanner they can just resort to hacking the pattern or PIN lock instead. I don't know how this works though so don't take my word for it. And as far as I know, editing comments is coming very soon to the app!

  • Gio A. Sep 18, 2013 Link to comment

    Sry, ment to say "the biggest isseu". The next thing that should be added to the app is the ability to edit comments.

  • Gio A. Sep 18, 2013 Link to comment

    The biggest with the finger print scanner for me is that I probably wouldn't be abke to use it in the winter time when it's really cold and you don't want to take of your gloves. it is now possible to use phones with gloves now but how would that work with finger print scanners. Sorry it just isn't practical for me.

  • Kris Carlon
    • Admin
    • Staff
    Sep 18, 2013 Link to comment

    Haha, well we best try to spread the word hey! I can just imagine pleading with a mugger trying to explain this article to him as he approaches you with a knife. You could prove it of course but you'd have to unlock your phone first to show him!

  • red Sep 18, 2013 Link to comment

    My luck, my thief wouldn't have read the article that a dead finger doesn't work and learn that with my dead finger.

  • David D. Sep 18, 2013 Link to comment

    Hehe. What if someone swipes your finger when you're sleeping?

  • tekf33k3n Sep 17, 2013 Link to comment

    Ok, so the thief punches out the victim and uses their still pulsing finger or holds them up at gunpoint/knife-point and says open up the phone. Granted, these are equally as far fetched and unlikely but fingerprint scanners are not exactly perfect for security. They better serve in a two-factor security scheme.

    BTW, is Apple gonna sue Microsoft now; saying that they invented this? If so, I need to go dig through the old junk drawer and find my old Compaq iPaq from 2003 while I get ready for the next show.

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