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Apple reveals critical new details on iPhone 5s Touch ID system

Published Sep 12th, 2013 9:30AM EDT
Apple iPhone 5s Touch ID

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The most interesting new feature found in the iPhone 5s is undoubtably its Touch ID system that scans of users’ fingerprints on the device and lets them use the fingerprint data to unlock their devices and make purchases through the iTunes Store. The Wall Street Journal reports that an unnamed Apple spokesperson has provided some important new details about how Touch ID will work and how it will keep users’ privacy safe.

First, Apple says that it isn’t storing full scans of users’ fingerprints on the device and is only storing “fingerprint data” that stays encrypted on the iPhone 5s processor. Because this data is fragmented pieces of information about users’ fingerprints rather than full images, Apple says that hackers won’t be able to reverse engineer the users’ original scans if they crack the chip.

Those aren’t the only security features Apple has built into Touch ID, of course. The company also tells users that they need to create a passcode before scanning their fingerprints that they’ll need to use when they reboot their phone or if their phone has stayed unlocked for more than two days. In other words, using your fingerprint alone won’t be enough to unlock your iPhone in all circumstances. Additionally, Apple has put up a firewall between Touch ID and third-part apps so there’s no way for a rogue application to steal your fingerprint data.

Finally, Apple cautions users that they shouldn’t expect Touch ID to work perfectly all the time. In particular Apple’s engineers found that the fingerprint scanner doesn’t respond well when users’ hands are wet with sweat or other liquids. The sensor also has trouble in instances where users’ fingers have been scarred or disfigured in some way.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.