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Best Practices

New iPhone Fingerprint Scanner Raises Security Questions

September 24, 2013

Apple’s release earlier this month of its new IPhone 5S that features a new fingerprint sensor to enhance security raises questions about the device’s ability to protect non-public personal information.

Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner allows users to scan their fingerprint to access the iPhone and download media or apps from iTunes without the need to type in a PIN code.

Addressing privacy concerns, Apple said the new feature doesn’t store images of users’ fingerprints. Instead, the system stores fingerprint data that is encrypted within the phone’s processor. Already, however, hackers are offering a bounty to the first person to hack the biometric lock. Other companies also are looking at the potential of merging biometrics and mobile technology. It’s been reported that HTC One Max will release a product equipped with a fingerprint scanner on the back of the smartphone.

Gregory McDonald of Cloudstar Consulting Corp. is concerned the fingerprint scanner will give iPhone users a false sense of security.

“The iPhone is an extremely popular platform,” he said. “That means hackers and criminals will try desperately to defeat the new security measures. We have no reason to believe the new fingerprint scanner is foolproof. Security measures seldom are and Apple’s current “passcode” system is already easily bypassed. You can always change your password, but you only have one set of fingerprints. If your digital fingerprints fall into the wrong hands, it’s a problem that could haunt you for life.”

McDonald believes we’ll soon see a combination of passcode and fingerprint. “In other words, something you have, in addition to something you know,” he added. “That will be the best combination.”

Over the weekend, a hacking group figured out how to bypass the fingerprint login using lifted finger prints and household items.

With many people using smartphones and tablets for multiple things, including work, it’s important to protect the non-public information (NPI) included in documents you receive and send on these devices. ALTA’s “Title Insurance and Settlement Company Best Practices” provides guidance on protecting NPI. Additionally, here’s a list of best-practice tips from the IT management and solutions company ISON to help ensure compliance and that NPI is safeguarded:

  1. Password protect all devices.
  2. Make sure that emails and messages are encrypted. If your email provider does not have the option for encrypting, you need to find a new provider. Microsoft Office is an option as it has privacy protection plans that are accepted under HIPAA guidelines. Every email can be encrypted or users can opt to encrypt certain emails.
  3. Delete all voicemails and messages regarding any NPI. Plan a weekly time to go through your devices and clear any unneeded information.
  4. Have a remote wipe tool on your device in case it is lost or stolen. Activation of a “lost my phone” application may also be helpful. The app on the iPhone is Find My iPhone.” It can find a missing phone and you can wipe it if necessary. The new i07 will have a remote lock option that will lock the device down, no matter who has it and where it will be locked down. If you backup your device in the cloud you can always reboot your phone if you get it back, according to ISON.
  5. Never look at NPI on a non-secure WiFi network. Be aware of snoops.
  6. Always update applications. This is important for users of Android operating systems. The number of mobile malware has been on a constant and steep incline in the past four years.
  7. Educate yourself and train staff on safe mobile use. Know what mobile malware looks like and what to avoid when using your phone. For instance, don’t open a text message from someone you don’t know.

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