Will Apple leave their fingerprint on authentication? | TeleSign

A leak to a news site, followed by colorful trade invitations, makes it clear that Apple is planning a new iPhone launch for tomorrow, September 10th. Along with a cheaper, multi-colored, plastic-bodied version (believed to be branded the iPhone 5C), this is expected to include a next generation model, although opinions are divided as to whether this will be called the iPhone 6, or the iPhone 5S. 

Following Apple’s acquisition of mobile security firm AuthenTec last year, and references inside an iO7 developer folder, it is also believed that this new top-of-the-range iPhone will include a fingerprint scanner, possibly located in the home button. Enabling the phone to take a biometric reading of the thumbprint whenever the user re-opens their phone. More recently, leaked images of the box supposedly show a silver ring round the home button, which may indicate a scanner.

Commentators are already speculating on the impact this might have on mobile payments. Is this likely to be so disruptive as to change the landscape completely, doing for the finance industry what iTunes did for the music business? Or will Apple have to adapt to the demands of the marketplace the same as any other mobile provider? As one commentator put it, “Mobile payments don’t depend on Apple, but Apple will soon depend on mobile payments”.

Some observe that Apple acquires patents all the time and this development is just one of many. Others believe Apple could be close to a significant announcement on mobile payments, beyond its existing Passbook app, which allows users to save tickets, vouchers, coupons and loyalty cards on their phone. However, it still has to demonstrate how secure it can make transactions which directly affect a user’s bank account. And as for in-store payments, there is apparently no sign yet that Apple has been negotiating with retailers to facilitate this.

As far as authentication goes, some commentators do not see biometics taking over from the two-factor process just yet, and fear it would simply slow down the login process. Others point to the failure of Pay By Touch, which unsuccessfully attempted to get biometrics accepted by retailers ten years ago, and stress the difficulties of relying on the cloud for payments when signal reception can vary so much in some places.

It is believed that any development in authentication by biometrics could help answer one fraud problem for retailers, where customers dispute charges by claiming that they did not make the purchase in question. And although the US banks which would be required to support developments in mobile payments are also strong in Europe (which also has significant purchasing power) it is believed that in the EU privacy concerns could see biometrics coming under legal scrutiny.

Some of us at TeleSign believe that, for now, any fingerprint scanner built into the new iPhone would be there more for reasons of device security than superior authentication, but it wouldn’t be the first time that the folks from Cupertino have surprised us all. Needless to say, we will all be watching tomorrow’s announcement with interest.

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