When the iPhone 5S was released on September 20, the mobile device world received a security jolt. One of the new features of the latest iPhone model is a fingerprint scanner, built into the Home button hardware. The learning curve isn’t steep at all, since this is the same button that has graced the iPhone ever since the first generation. This modified button allows you to unlock your iPhone with your fingerprint, instead of typing in a password using the touch screen. You can also set the fingerprint to unlock your iTunes, iBooks, and App Store accounts, allowing you to make purchases quickly.

 

Business Implications

 

Small and medium businesses, in addition to enterprise organizations, can find value in biometric security measures like Apple’s Touch ID. Companies who use landlines for their 1800 numbers have a certain amount of security, since the hardware is a corded connection with a stationary location. However, companies that use mobile devices, such as iPhones, must worry about data leaks and theft. The fingerprint sensor combined with Apple’s Touch ID feature gives business iPhones two safety barriers. If there are five unsuccessful fingerprint login attempts, Touch ID will force the user to login with a password. This double layer of security can help put business leaders at ease, when they issue work phones to employees or encourage Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies.

 

The Fingerprint Sensor

 

The only iPhone model currently sporting the updated Home button fingerprint sensor is the iPhone 5S. Apple’s design team engineered a unique and extremely thin sensor using four extremely high tech layers. The base of the sensor includes a tactile switch. Above that is a touch-capacitive sensor, which differentiates between your skin and other objects pressing against the Home button. Above this sensor are a stainless steel ring and a layer of precision-cut sapphire crystal. The iPhone reads the ridges of your fingerprint when it comes into contact with the Home button. Once the firmware recognizes you as an authorized user, then it unlocks the iPhone.

 

Touch ID

 

This is the firmware system that allows you to manage fingerprints and add new ones. You can store up to five different fingerprints in Touch ID, which can be immensely useful for teams sharing the same iPhone at work. When you first set up Touch ID, you will need to press your finger against the Home button repeatedly, so that the iPhone can get an accurate reading of your entire fingerprint from all angles. If you dig around in the Touch ID settings, you’ll notice that you can activate fingerprint login for Apple purchasing apps, such as iBooks, App Store, and iTunes. This allows you to make purchases quickly, with a single press of the finger. You’ll no longer have to fumble with long Apple ID passwords.

 

Secure Enclave

 

Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts about Touch ID and the iPhone 5S fingerprint sensor is the security that happens behind the scenes. There is a partition in the A7 processing chip known as “Secure Enclave” that stores a scrambled version of your fingerprint in code. Apple claims that this encryption cannot be reverse-engineered to create a picture of your fingerprint. None of this information is kept online in cloud storage – it exists exclusively on your iPhone.

As companies move forward with in-house iPhone devices and BYOD technology, it is important for their IT departments to understand current phone security options and enforce login protocols. Touch ID on the iPhone 5S can be an immense boon for companies worried about password security. It can be much easier to secure a landline connected to a 1800 service, but it is notoriously difficult to secure mobile devices. The iPhone 5S and its new biometric security offerings bring an interesting new approach to device security.