Fingerprint scanners on phones were supposed to herald in a new age of security, replacing password entries. But the new technology took a step backwards as it was found that Samsung and Huawei fingerprint scanners hacked by printer. Researchers from Michigan State University found that by using simple methods, involving an off the shelf inkjet printer and special paper used for printing circuits, they were able to fool the device into unlocking.
The devices unlocked, a Samsung S6 and a Huawei Honor 7, were tricked into unlocking by fingerprints being printed onto special paper with conducive ink. They were even able to replicate the process fairly easy using simple methods of fingerprint lifting. Previously it was thought that only advanced and complicated methods could bypass the security of smart phones, including 3D printing and a long process to do so. But this method was relatively easy to execute and even easier to replicate.
The level of security of these kinds of fingerprint scanners lack behind one of the industry’s leading technology in Apple’s iPhone fingerprint scanner, but is also the most widely used. This type of fingerprint scanner is used across the board, from Samsung and Huawei to LG and Google’s Nexus. Even Apple’s fingerprint scanner was able to be bypassed back in 2013, almost immediately after release. The industry has tried to move away from the simple passcode protection level to that of more advanced technology and systems, but unfortunately it doesn’t necessarily translate into being more secure.
Luckily, this kind of hack does not necessarily mean bad news for everyone who uses these devices and the fingerprint scanners, but it would allow law enforcement agencies to unlock smartphones without the need of a backdoor. This of course is relevant at the moment with the ongoing battle between the FBI and Apple over unlocking an iPhone. If the FBI does lose, then it will look at its own ways of unlocking phones without Apple’s permission.
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