It sounds like a great idea: Forget passwords, and instead lock your phone or computer with your fingerprint. It’s a convenient form of security — though it’s also perhaps not as safe as you’d think.
In their rush to do away with problematic passwords, Apple, Microsoft and other tech companies are nudging consumers to use their own fingerprints, faces and eyes as digital keys. Smartphones and other devices increasingly feature scanners that can verify your identity via these “biometric” signatures in order to unlock a gadget, sign into web accounts and authorize electronic payments.
But there are drawbacks: Hackers could still steal your fingerprint — or its digital representation. Police may have broader legal powers to make you unlock your phone. And so-called “biometric” systems are so convenient they could lull users into a false sense of security.
“We may expect too much from biometrics. No security systems are perfect,” said Anil Jain, a computer science professor at Michigan State University who helped police unlock a smartphone by using a digitally enhanced ink copy of the owner’s fingerprints.
Bypassing the Password
Biometric security seems like a natural solution to well-known problems with passwords. Far too many people choose weak and easily-guessed passwords like “123456” or “password.” Many others reuse a single password across online accounts, all of which could be hacked if the password is compromised. And of course some use no password at all when they can get away with it, as many phones allow.
As electronic sensors and microprocessors have grown cheaper and more powerful, gadget makers have started adding biometric sensors to familiar products.
Apple’s iPhone 5S, launched in 2013, introduced fingerprint scanners to a mass audience, and rival phone makers quickly followed suit. Microsoft built biometric capabilities into the latest version of its Windows 10 software, so you can unlock your PC by…