Could iPhone’s fingerprint sensor help kill off passwords?

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7908026_sThe fingerprint sensor built into Apple’s latest smartphone, which was unveiled on Tuesday, could signify the beginning of the end for the pesky password. This according to the BBC.

The Touch ID feature will allow users to access their phones with a press of the finger, without the need to remember complex sequences of letters or numbers.

Biometric technology, which uses the body’s unique features as an identification technique, has been around for a while. Scotland Yard used fingerprints as early as 1901, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew enough about the distinctive features of the human ear to work it into one of his Sherlock Holmes stories.

Yet passwords have prevailed. It’s not that fingerprint sensors don’t already exist; they are widely used on PCs in the business sector. But experiments with older smartphones, such as the Motorola Atrix 4G, were plagued with problems and soon abandoned.

iHLS – Israel Homeland Security

So is this latest development just another gimmick, or a sign of things to come? Gummi bears proved a sticky problem after cryptographers used them to replicate fingerprints

Mark Lockie, managing editor of news site Planet Biometrics, thinks it is the latter.

“The industry has been waiting for a moment like this,” he told the BBC. Apple’s intention to embrace biometric technology was made clear in July 2012, when it bought mobile security company Authentec, which developed fingerprint sensor chips, for $356m (£226m).

The investment caused shares in other biometric firms to rise on the back of speculation that they too might become takeover targets.

“We’re all essentially walking passwords,” explains Prof Mark Nixon of the University of Southampton. He works on cybersecurity systems which recognise unique human characteristics such as facial features and gait patterns. But, he warns, despite biometrics offering a more convenient way of securing our devices, it is “no panacea”, and there are pitfalls. Companies looking to adopt fingerprint security have had to worry about the possibility of the tech failing to recognize an owner and locking them out.