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Security researcher cancels talk on Face ID hack under mysterious circumstances

Published Jan 4th, 2019 4:57PM EST
Face ID Hack
Image: Apple Inc.

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A security researcher who was supposed to deliver a talk about how to hack the iPhone X’s Face ID feature cancelled his presentation for a rather bizarre reason. According to a report from Reuters, security researcher Wish Wu was originally scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Black Hat Asia hacking conference which is slated to kick off in late March. We’ve since learned that Wu opted to step away from the conference at the behest of his employer, Ant Financial.

Now you might be wondering: why would a company prevent an employee from speaking at a reputable hacking conference? Well, it could have something to do with the fact that Ant Financial has payment software that relies upon the stringent security measures provided by Face ID. What’s more, it’s worth noting that Wu’s presentation wasn’t so much a technical exposé on how to skirt around iOS’ built-in security mechanisms as it was a demonstration that Face ID can sometimes be defeated with a photo. Suffice it to say, we’re not talking about a high-level hack here.

Interestingly, Wu was supposed to show how Face ID can be defeated with a simple 2D black and white photo, something which has yet to be done and replicated. Notably, Face ID has built-in features and an array of sophisticated sensors that allow it to discern the difference between a 3D face and a simple 2D picture. All in all, it’s not entirely clear how groundbreaking Wu’s presentation was going to be, if at all.

Reuters adds:

“Black Hat accepted the talk after believing the hack could be replicated based on the materials provided by the researcher,” conference spokeswoman Kimberly Samra said.

Anil Jain, a Michigan State University computer science professor who is an expert on facial recognition, said he was surprised by Wu’s claim because Apple has invested heavily in “anti-spoofing” technology that makes such hacks very difficult.

For as secure and reliable as Face ID has been, rumor has it that the feature will improve on Apple’s 2019 iPhone lineup. Specifically, Apple will reportedly include a more powerful flood illuminator which will improve reliability in certain environments.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.