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Is iPhone X’s Face ID system secure?

One of the most talked about features of Apple’s upcoming flagship device, the iPhone X, is Face ID. Since the iPhone X has an almost bezel-less screen, it will ditch the home button and subsequently, the fingerprint scanner, and it will move on to a 3-D depth scanning facial recognition system.

With that new design direction, Face ID will replace Touch ID as the biometric security authorization system of the iPhone X. It will be used for a variety of tasks like unlocking the phone, Apple Pay, app purchases and in-app logins.

Naturally, questions are still being raised about the security of such a system. We’ve already seen how the Samsung Galaxy S8’s facial recognition system can be fooled by a mere photo, how can Apple’s Face ID be any different?

TrueDepth Sensors

For one, Apple is using a more elaborate facial recognition system for Face ID. Unlike Samsung’s system, Apple’s Face ID senses depth and it tracks faces in 3-D.

Along with the 7MP front facing camera, microphone, speaker, ambient light and proximity sensors that are crammed within the small upper notch of the iPhone X’s display are multiple new sensors – an infrared camera, a dot projector and a flood illuminator.

These sensors work together to flood your face with 30,000 invisible dots that track your face in 3-D then create a pattern that’s stored securely on the iPhone. Each time you look at the phone, the system then compares the facial pattern to match what it sees.

Apple said that the odds of someone duping Face ID is one in a million, vastly superior to the one in 50,000 odds of TouchID.

Apple also said that Face ID is also smart enough to adapt to the changes users undergo on a daily basis. It can still track your face through hairstyle changes, beard growth or even with accessories like hats and scarves.

How about sunglasses?

More questions about Face ID were answered by Apple’s Craig Federighi via an email reply to questions raised by app designer Keith Krimbel.

First, will Face ID work even with sunglasses?

Federighi replied that most sunglasses still allow infrared light to pass through so iPhone X owners can still unlock their phones and use Face ID even while wearing shades. Note that Federighi added “not all” so this implies that it will be a case-by-case basis and some sunglasses will not work.

How about forced facial scans?

Krimbel also presented a scenario where a thief takes an iPhone X, points it at the owner’s face then runs away with it.

Federighi replied that for Face ID to work, the owner needs to “stare at the phone.” This means it requires your attention to work and with your eyes open too. This prevents someone from unlocking your phone by pointing it while you’re asleep, for example.

How to quickly disable Face ID

Perhaps the biggest revelation from Federighi’s email reply is the quick way of disabling Face ID when the need arises. He said that gripping the buttons on the side of the iPhone X will temporarily disable Face ID, requiring the passcode to unlock it. This is similar to the new SOS feature in iOS 11 that lets you quickly disable Touch ID by tapping the sleep/wake button rapidly five times.

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