Device Security: Fingerprints vs Passwords

Apple’s announcement and release of the iPhone 5s raised an interesting question that many have asked me:

“Which is safer, Touch ID or  a pin code?”

The answer is, it depends on what you’re protecting yourself from.

touchid_hero

Pin codes 

They are a nuisance

Far too many people don’t use them, because they are annoying. A device that is devoid of security is already defeated.

Pin peeping

Someone can easily observe a user inputting a pin, and thus defeat the security.

Police prevention

It takes a massive amount of legal proceedings for the police to compel a person to turn over their password.

Fingerprint 

Police & fingerprints

The police can compel you to turn over your fingerprints. There isn’t enough legal precedent to ensure protection from the authorities.

Deep sleepers

If you’re a deep sleeper, someone could access your device with your fingerprint, and defeat your security while you’re dreaming.

Effortless security

The way Touch ID is setup, using your fingerprint as a password is effortless after initial setup.

Safe print storage?

The way Touch ID is architected, your fingerprint data should be secure. Even if it isn’t, the device isn’t storing your prints, it’s storing a mathematical translation of your prints. So, if someone defeats Apple’s security and accesses your print data, it’s not actually your print, it’s a looooooooooong string of seemingly random characters.

Other fingerprint enabled devices, I cannot speak for at this time.

That being said, I wouldn’t worry about this because we leave our fingerprints everywhere. If someone is motivated and wants to steal your prints and do bad things, it’s pretty much impossibly to prevent (hair follicles too).

The bottom-line

If you think you’ll be invoking your right to remain silent in the near-future… Go with a pin… And please don’t hurt anyone.

If you don’t trust the people under your roof… Go with a pin…  And maybe a lock on your door.

Your safest option would be to enable fingerprint security, and have a pin… But Apple doesn’t allow it. Two layers of security would be better than one.

That being said, pick one. Pin or print, it doesn’t matter. If you’re committed to security laziness, at least protect your device with a print. No security is a terrible idea.

Practice safe computing.

(Image via Apple)

2 thoughts on “Device Security: Fingerprints vs Passwords

    1. You’re lucky if you’ve never had to share a roof with someone who is deeply untrustworthy.
      -Drug addicted/ theiving roommates or family members
      -Snooping significant others

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