Face unlocks: Bad or worse? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 04, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:55 AM, June 08, 2018

Face unlocks: Bad or worse?

These days, all the smartphone are opting towards face unlock. To them, it's one of the easiest ways and a user can use the access control system of the device. And for, smartphones convenience was always at the forefront. Most of the top smartphone manufacturing companies would undoubtedly say that the reason for opting to a face unlock mechanism is to reduce a users' time to access the content on their phone. However, it wasn't taken as seriously as it was before until the launching of Apple's iPhone X. The whole world was divided in two: Yeah or Booo! Apple's competition immediately bashed the very concept saying it is a flawed way of ensuring security. Yet, slowly and steadily the market challengers and followers started to follow the market leader. Just looking at the newly unveiled devices of GSMA Mobile World Congress 2018, we can see that all the new entrant had two things in common: the notch and the face unlock.

To be honest, we didn't mind much about the whole concept of facial recognition. It was new and proper elegant way of ensuring security and it had a particular futuristic zing to it. In fact, “if the technology is done right”, it is much more safe and secure than the conventional passwords and patterns and PIN codes. But as we said, only if the tech is done right.

Firstly, let's have a look at the how the Apple's Face ID works: it's an extremely complex system that comprises of two segments of the device: input sensors and processing hardware. The input sensors include the regular camera, the IR camera and a dot projector. The processing hardware includes a neural network based AI-powered process and storage. Apple devoted a significant amount of resources to the Face ID to make it work. And the cost reflects on the retail price of iPhone X.

But that's not the case for other smartphone makers who are trying to sell the device at a much cheaper rate. As a result, it isn't really easy for them to provide the tech at a much lower rate. In most cases, an inexpensive phone's facial recognition relies on just the front-facing camera and some not-so-advanced algorithms, maybe using a flash to take better photos. But a regular 2-D camera without an IR sensor or dot projector can be easily fooled by photos (for example, snagged from a social media profile) printed on paper or shown on a screen. Even some of the better ones are likely still susceptible to fakery using 3-D printed masks. Even Apple's Face ID was fooled by an “evil twin” mask attack, but phones relying on simple photos are simple gatekeepers.

The widespread use of face unlocking without adequate hardware will result in lower security overall for modern phones. Fortunately, for now, it isn't usually the default authentication method — codes or fingerprints are more common. And some manufacturers use more secure systems, such as iris recognition, that is harder to fool.

So, all in all… before buying a device, make sure you are actually going through the specs of your face unlock feature.

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