One of the most exciting features Apple introduced at yesterday’s unveiling, was a brand new fingerprint scanner built into the iPhone 5s. The feature, called Touch ID, allows users to easily unlock their phone without entering a passcode, and can be used to confirm iTunes purchases. While these two uses are neat, Touch ID’s real potential lies in the world of enterprise, where corporations are always looking to keep information secure and protect access. So far, smartphones have been a major vulnerability in enterprise security (see: the entire Bring-Your-Own-Device security industry that has sprung up to ease these worries).
If Touch ID works reliably, and holds up against hacking, which it appears to, companies could have an easy way to verify users identities. In addition, if Apple expands access to fingerprint verification (which it’s not yet clear it will do), then companies could verify file access, or even computer access, using custom mobile apps.
The worry about opening up fingerprint verification beyond just unlocking and iTunes purchases lies in the possibility of rogue apps or hackers gaining access to users fingerprints (a potentially serious problem). However, based on how Touch ID verifies fingerprints, this shouldn’t be a problem. Business Insider explains “Your fingerprint gets encrypted and stored within the A7 chip. It’s only accessible by TouchID, and will never be stored on Apple’s servers or backed up on iCloud.”
Because user’s fingerprints are verified by hardware, not software, Apple should be able to let 3rd party apps request confirmation directly from the A7 chip. There shouldn’t be any need for prints to be uploaded into the cloud or turned over to the software itself, which is where vulnerabilities would enter. Of course, it’s also possible Apple has concerns over the lifespan of the feature and wants to keep use limited at first in order to test its durability.
If Apple does choose to allow 3rd party apps to use the new TouchID feature though, it might just be the key to unlocking the enterprise market.