Android Security Hack Could Compromise Fingerprints

Fingerprint scans may not be as secure as some may have thought, Fast Company reported Thursday (Aug. 6).

In an article, Fast Company reported that during the tech industry conference known as “Black Hat,” security industry experts showed research that found that hackers can “remotely obtain” fingerprints that are used with Android devices via biometric sensors.

As noted in the presentation, FireEye’s scientists Tao Wei and Yulong Zhang said the threat is a somewhat limited one, defined by the fact that only a certain number of devices use the Android system and biometrics in tandem. And though there are several companies that do in fact manufacture devices with both features — ranging from Samsung to Huawei to HTC — Apple still hold sway over the nascent biometrics market. And it is the tech giant’s Touch ID sensor that has shown itself to be more security resilient than Android peers due to the fact that it encrypts data at the scanner.

Within four years, according to some estimates, more than half of smartphones shipped will sport fingerprint sensors.

“Even if the attacker can directly read the sensor, without obtaining the crypto key, [the attacker] still cannot get the fingerprint image,” Zhang told ZDNet, which in turn was quoted by Fast Company.

In their presentation, the FireEye researchers detailed four methods of attack on the Android system. One of the more notable methods would involve remotely hacking the sensor and stealing any fingerprint that is in fact uncovered.

The researchers termed this the “fingerprint sensor spying attack,” and it entails a scenario in which hackers could continuously use fingerprint data in just about any manner. Wei and Zhang, according to their research, tested the hack on the HTC One Max and Samsung’s Galaxy S5 phones.


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