Apple announced the iPhone 5S on Tuesday and confirmed a long standing rumor about the handset — yes, there is a fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button. Shortly after this feature was revealed, people began to question the new Touch ID and asked whether it is secure. Apple addressed those questions in a statement sent to the WSJ’s Digit’s blog.
According to an Apple representative, the Touch ID system does not store your actual fingerprint on the phone. Instead, the phone only keeps the “fingerprint data,” which is stored encrypted in the iPhone’s processor. This means if someone stole your phone and somehow managed to hack into the encrypted chip, they would not have the information necessary to recreate your fingerprint.
As a further security measure, Apple is not allowing third-party apps to access the biometric scanner. The company is also requiring users who activate the sensor to create a passcode backup. If the phone is rebooted or hasn’t been unlocked for 48 hours, then users will have to enter this code to unlock the phone. This is meant to deter hackers who are holding onto a phone while they figure out how to break into it.
Apple did mention one drawback to the new fingerprint sensor. Though it performed reliably in testing under normal circumstances, it didn’t do so well when users fingers were sweaty or oily. Mental note: don’t try to unlock your phone after putting on sunscreen or while eating a plate of fries.