Hacking Contest Targets Apple Touch ID

No sooner did Apple become the first smartphone company to introduce biometrics security than a hacking contest got underway to try to crack the fingerprint-based security in Touch ID. Doubtless, plenty of hackers will join the competition but will anybody win the prize, which includes $10,000 from venture capital firm IO Capital?

Apple has billed Touch ID as an innovative way to securely unlock your iPhone with the touch of a finger. Built into the home button, Touch ID uses a laser cut sapphire crystal, together with the capacitive touch sensor, to take a high-resolution image of your fingerprint and intelligently analyze it to provide accurate readings from any angle. Every time you use it, Apple promised, it gets better.

The Web site hosting the competition, IsTouchIDHackedYet.com, offers a bold header that responds, "No!" But the following have offered a reward to the first person who can reliably and repeatedly break into an iPhone 5s by lifting prints (like from a beer mug). In addition to the $10,000, the list of prizes includes Bitcoins, a bottle of Argentine wine, and a free patent application covering the hack from @CipherLaw."

Why a Hack is Certain

We caught up with Kevin O'Brien, an enterprise solution architect at CloudLock, to get his thoughts on the contest. He told us the fingerprint security on iOS is almost certainly going to be compromised.

"The two primary mechanisms of defense here are that the fingerprint data is being stored in hashed form, and that the data is being stored in a supposedly secure portion of the device," O'Brien said. "Neither offers any real security."

First, he explained, hashed data can -- with dedicated access and time, and some insight -- typically be reversed. The ideal cryptographic hash would not be reversible, but he said it is often possible to bypass a hash...

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