Apple seems to be in a race to lock down iPhone, iPad, and Mac before authorities, hackers, and spooks get the upper hand. Touch ID was tough to break into, but it looks as if Face ID will be more difficult.
Face recognition systems have been around for many years, and most of them perform more as gimmicks and parlor tricks than they do as real security technology. Photos can get through most such face recognition and even 3D systems can be hacked with well crafted plaster molds designed to recreate the face.
With iPhone X, Apple is keeping quiet about just how secure it is, but they did the same with Touch ID and that worked out very well. Third party troublemakers will get their hands on iPhone X and Face ID soon enough, but it appears Apple has another techno-security hit on their hands.
That brings up a few interesting issues regarding security. Ostensibly, Face ID simply replaces Touch ID wherever the latter was used to open the iPhone or open a secured application. Touch the Home button, and the fingerprint gets scanned, then checked against the data in the Secure Enclave (think of it as the basement of Apple’s CPU), and if it matches, all is a go. The unlock happens.
Assume that Face ID works the same way. Your face is flashed with thousands of beams of light which bounce off but are captured by the camera, and the system makes a 3D image which is checked against the one stored in the Secure Enclave, and if it matches, you’re good to go and the iPhone unlocks.
Now, can authorities force you to use your face to unlock the iPhone? Will police love or hate iPhone X and Face ID?
As it stands now in the U.S., you’re not always required to give up your password (Fifth Amendment, self incrimination and all that), but some iPhone users have been required to unlock their phones with Touch ID.
I worry about how authorities will handle iPhone X and Face ID. There are slight differences between Face ID and Touch ID. Both are somewhat unique, but Touch ID has been hacked in a couple of inconsequential areas, and getting a fake fingerprint to open a locked phone is not a trivial exercise, and if the phone has been turned off, Touch ID and Face ID will not be used. The password is a requirement.
If you’re being chased by anyone you don’t want to have access to your iPhone, shut it off.
Even Apple says there is no perfect system, but what the company wants is security for the average person which keeps out nearly everyone. What the cops want is an easy way to open your phone to see what’s inside, and what you’ve been hiding from authorities. I don’t think police will love Face ID any more than they loved Touch ID, but the real issue for both is convenience. It remains crazy difficult to open an iPhone locked down with a tough-to-guess password.