Light Friday: Hacking Apple's iPhone Fingerprint Scanner

September 13, 2013


How the Robohand Imitates Human Digits

Is Space Really Infinite?

The Future of Product Design

A Dose of Pun

After months of speculation and rumor following its purchase of biometrics company AuthenTech, Apple confirmed on Tuesday that its new iPhone 5S would be outfitted with a fingerprint scanner. This technology, dubbed Touch ID, is built directly into the iPhone's signature home button, and can be used to activate the phone as well as substitute for passwords for such things as online purchases and even banking.

At the unveiling, the company went to great lengths to emphasize how secure this new technology makes the iPhone and all the apps tied to it. For example, they stressed that fingerprints would only be stored locally in "secure enclave in the new A7 chip," and never in the cloud or on any remote servers.

But just how secure is a fingerprint? Can it be hacked? "Almost certainly," writes Wired

. The iPhone 5S uses what's known as the capacitance method for scanning fingerprints, according to Gizmodo

, in which the ridges of the print are uses to close circuits on the sensor and generate a current that is used to create the image of the print.

That means, a person looking to hack your phone would need a high-resolution image of your fingerprint and some basic materials engineering capabilities. Wired mentions a Japanese researcher who, in 2002, was able to fool fingerprint authentication system using Gummi bears.

But that was a decade ago. So while the capability of hacking Apple's Touch ID is doable, it requires a lot more skills and equipment than your average hacker or thief would have easy access to. The bigger question is just how secure is the "secure enclave" that stores the fingerprint image.

How the Robohand Imitates Human Digits

The 3D-printed customizable Robohand is a device that gives people without fingers a chance to have fully functional digits -- but the breakthrough might not have happened without a woodworking accident in 2011.

When Richard Van As lost four of his fingers on the job in South Africa, he immediately began to search for a suitable prosthetic for his missing digits. When available artificial solutions proved to be too costly and impractical for certain trade tasks, he turned to the web and found an unlikely source in America: a theater production designer with expertise in mechanical special effects.

Despite being thousands of miles apart, the men collaborated to create the first Robohand

, which is fabricated with hardware, thermo/orthoplastic, anodizing materials. They made use of a couple of MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printers donated by a Brooklyn-based company. With the flick of the wrist, Robohand's

fingers are able to grasp objects just like human hands.

Van As admits that he initiated the project for the sake of his own fingers, but he gradually began to realize the potential of the $500 device, which is now available worldwide and has been fitted for approximately 170 people -- from children born without fingers to adults. Here's the best part: The Robohand is not patented and is available for free, with the help of donations.

See the real-life magic in the video below.


Is Space Really Infinite?

Just how big is the universe? It turns out, scientists aren't sure.

One problem is that scientists don't quite understand the shape of the universe, and it's hard to measure. New Scientist

explains this through an example using the Earth as an analog. If you were to sail a ship around the Earth, you could keep traveling forever and never discover an "edge." So it might be with the universe, which may present us with a curve that extends back around into itself. That is, we may just travel along the interior surface of a huge sphere, and never realize that no end is coming.

Further, measuring the size of the vast universe also relies on our ability to measure small objects. The smallest possible measurable distance 10-35 m. If one attempts to divide this measurement further, the Uncertainty Principle kicks in to the point that our ability to distinguish between places is rendered meaningless. So, if that is the smallest measurement we can make, how many of those could fit into the universe? If we cube 10-35 m, and then figure out how many of those can fit into the observable universe, we come up with 10180 cu m... but even that is only the smallest possible size of the universe.

Enough from us, check out the video for yourself:


The Future of Product Design

In this video from SpaceX, founder Elon Musk talks about how to get engineering design ideas from the mind into reality faster. To this end, SpaceX is exploring different ways of interacting with computers and CAD software, including the combination of gesture-recognition technology, 3D and holographic projection, and 3D printing.


Finally, A Dose of Pun



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