Saturday, September 21, 2013

iPhone 5S: A Biometrics Turning Point?

Future: Mobile Devices Will Boost Interest in Advanced Authentication

Apple's decision to include a fingerprint scanner in its new iPhone 5S is an important step toward bringing biometrics-based authentication into the mainstream. But there's still a long way to go before biometrics supplant usernames and passwords at the enterprise level.

Owners of the new phone can use a fingerprint to physically unlock their devices instead of using a numeric passcode. Apple will also let users confirm purchases from the iTunes store by swiping a finger on the sensor.

Apple have not yet revealed whether they will allow third-party developers to take advantage of the new TouchID fingerprint technology to build biometrics-based authentication into their apps. While TouchID is an important milestone toward getting users comfortable with using biometrics as an authentication credential, the technology has to expand beyond the Apple universe before it can truly be considered a game-changer or a significant security breakthrough.

Biometrics authentication is not new to the mobile space. Some laptop vendors, including Lenovo, have included fingerprint readers in their devices for several years. Plus, a number of smart phones and tablets already incorporate biometrics to authenticate users. And security vendor McAfee recently introduced an online file storage service that relies on voice recognition to authenticate users. But all of these vendors use closed, proprietary models, which has made it difficult for biometrics to gain traction in the marketplace.

Market penetration for PCs and laptops with fingerprint sensors is about 20 percent, according to the FIDO Alliance, an industry group focused on open standards for authentication. Even if a majority of iPhone users opt for the iPhone 5S, overall smart phone market penetration for fingerprint scanners will remain low, considering that research firm IDC estimates Apple has about 17 percent smart phone market share.

The iPhone's popularity and its reputation as a trendsetter could help more consumers feel comfortable with the idea of using fingerprint scanners on a regular basis. And once they are used to the idea of fingerprint scanners, other types of biometrics won't be far behind. TouchID is the "first example of the potential for large-scale mass-market mobile biometric authentication.

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