Is it safe to use facial recognition and fingerprint scanning?

·5-min read

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Face ID and Touch ID, biometric data, facial recognition
Facial recognition and fingerprint identification technology is meant to keep you safer — but does it? (Photo: Getty)

You have private information that you want to keep, well, private, and that's definitely true when it comes to things that are on your phone. Your photos, logins, contacts and credit card information could all be up for grabs if your phone happens to land in the wrong hands. That's why privacy features like facial recognition and fingerprint ID have become so popular for smartphone users.

Of course, it's only natural to wonder just how safe it is to use features like fingerprint and facial recognition to unlock your phone. Biometric data is data designed as a security-authentication technology that's unique to you. That's precisely why it can feel like so much is at stake.

Just a heads up: You can guard the physical part of your phone with McAfee Multi Access. This industry-leading software provides privacy protection for your smartphone or tablet (your PC and Mac, too). It generates warnings about risky websites and dangerous downloads; blocks viruses, malware, spyware and ransomware attacks; and will locate, lock and wipe your data if your device is lost or stolen.

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McAfee Multi Access (Photo: McAfee)
McAfee Multi Access works with smartphones, tablets and more. (Photo: McAfee)

With McAfee Multi Access in your corner, Touch ID and Face ID become an extra level of protection. Here's how biometric data works — and how protected you actually are.

How do facial recognition and fingerprint ID work?

Facial recognition technology uses a sensor that allows you to get into your iPhone or iPad without needing to enter in a password. The device scans your face initially and then matches it each time you want to unlock your phone and/or make purchases on it.

Fingerprint identification is a similar concept, but it scans your fingerprint instead of your face to allow for access.

How can biometric data enhance security on your phone?

Touch ID, biometric data
Your fingerprint is stored in your device so only you can unlock it and make online payments. (Photo: Getty)

Both facial recognition and fingerprint ID make it harder for other people to access your phone. "I am a big fan of additional identity authentication by smartphone users and Touch ID and Face ID are, for the most part, secure," tech and cybersecurity expert Chuck Brooks, president of Brooks Consulting International, tells Yahoo Life.

This specialized tech is "stored within an encrypted section of the phone and open when matched with your fingerprint and or face biometrics," he explains.

"While not fully impenetrable to breach by hackers, the bad guys would need to have access to expensive equipment and/or perhaps sophisticated algorithmic capabilities to be able to breach," Brooks says. "Those requirements remove many of the threat actors from the cyber-attack ecosystem. Using Touch ID and/or Face ID certainly fortifies cyber-defenses."

Biometric data can also help protect your phone if you happen to lose it and whoever finds it wants to access your information, Tom Kelly, president and chief executive officer of the consumer privacy platform IDX, tells Yahoo Life.

What are the drawbacks in using facial recognition and fingerprint ID?

Biometric data, McAfee Multi-Access
Protect all your devices with McAfee Multi Access (Photo: McAfee)

Shop it: McAfee Multi Access, 30-day free trial then $4.99 a month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

While this software is good, it's not perfect. Researchers at the Black Hat USA 2019 conference demonstrated how they were able to bypass a victim's Face ID and log into their phone by putting a pair of glasses on their face and placing tape over the lenses. While this would be difficult to pull off, given that you'd need to be unconscious and someone would have to figure out how to get the glasses on you without waking you up, Kelly points out that it's a concern.

Facial recognition software will also unlock in some situations when people share similar enough features. "I know people that have close family relatives that are able to unlock their Face ID," Kelly says. "The niece of the CPO at my company is able to pick up her mother's phone and unlock the Face ID."

Apple’s Touch ID seems to have a greater level of protection than its Face ID, though, provided you're "in control of your device," Kelly says. For what it's worth, Apple says online that the odds of someone getting past your Touch ID is about one in 50,000. "It's very secure," Kelly says.

How can you make facial recognition and fingerprint ID even more private?

Facial recognition software, McAfee Multi Access
Facial recognition software scans your face once, then remembers it. (Photo: Getty)

There are a few steps you can take. Brooks suggests adding a "strong password" on top of your biometric data "to make it a really secure multi-factor authentication." Strong cybersecurity software like McAfee Multi-Access also helps keep your passwords impenetrable.

If you're not into the idea of having to enter your password, along with your fingerprint or face scan every time you want to access your phone, you can change the settings to only require it in some instances, Joseph Steinberg, cybersecurity expert witness and advisor, tells Yahoo Life. "From a practical perspective, if you have to use fingerprints, consider setting your devices to require better authentication if they are not used for some period of time, rebooted, or go out of a specific area."

Shop it: McAfee Multi Access, 30-day free trial then $4.99 a month, subscriptions.yahoo.com

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