Fingerprint Scan on HTC may be Severe Security Flaw

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

April 21, 2016

This week tech enthusiasts got their hands on the eagerly anticipated new handset from manufacturer HTC. Anticipation for HTC 10 had been carefully cultivated with its #powerof10 hashtag campaign. The phone (like most HTC designs) looks  smart and is without a doubt a highly desirable phone – with a fingerprint scanner. The Quad-HD display packs a real punch. The high resolution delivers some much needed wow factor: on a visually responsive 5.2 inch Super-LCD 5 2K panel ( 564ppi pixel density).

The phone has been designed to in keep with HTC’s consistently stylish sensibilities, and the powerful and feature-packed Android device is even being tipped for ‘phone of the year.’ One criticism is that the phone is slightly on the bulky side. In reality, however, HTC 10 is an absolutely ‘top end’ product.

While it is true that HTC 10 might not quite compare with the ultra-slick/highly modern appearance of the Samsung Galaxy S7. The consensus is that HTC 10 is an excellent smartphone that has reestablished the 19-year-old Taiwanese firm as an important powerhouse in the smartphone industry.

One particular reason for the uniformly impressed reception (from right across the tech industry), is that HTC has been carefully designed with the modern practical needs of users in mind. Packed with great features and designed with high-end components. Perhaps something of a trade secret: ever since the year 2011 HTC has actually ranked as the highest-selling smartphone brand in the US. Outselling all other brands with an impressive 24 percent share of the entire US’s mobile market .

With such outstanding sales results, it is no surprise that the firm has been working hard to solidify its successful position in the market. In particular by catering to consumer desires in a more direct and practical way, with high end components that make the phone a real pleasure to use.

Technology analyst, Marie Brewis, feels that  HTC 10is a real contender for smartphone of the year,

‘No longer will you hear us criticise HTC for shunning a Quad-HD screen or a fingerprint scanner, for example. The screen is both larger and higher in resolution, a responsive 5.2in Super LCD 5 2K panel with a 564 ppi pixel density. And the new fingerprint scanner responds to the touch in just 0.2 seconds,’ comments Brewis.

One aspect of the new HTC phone that has received praise in both product testing and reviews is the successful upgrade of the phones (security inspired) fingerprint scanner (which used to be laggy in previous models).


The HTC 10’s fingerprint scanner is really unobtrusive and has been designed to unlock the phone in the lightning fast time of 0.2seconds. A time that has been proven makes HTC 10 faster at scanning its owner’s fingerprint (than the iPhone 6S).

Of course, Apple first introduced it’s iPhone fingerprint scanning system back in 2013, with the release of iPhone 5S. At that time, a large part of the media published stories to dispel the myth that someone might loose their finger to a mobster who wants to unlock a phone. Those reports, focused on the fact that cutting off an iPhone owner’s finger – would not actually give any sadistic limb hackers access to any locked iPhones.

Despite the widespread agreement that severed digits cannot really be successfully used to unlock iPhones, the release of the (now perfected) fingerprint scanning HTC 10 fills me with a chilling sense of foreboding and inevitably makes me question the security validity of finger scanning software for phones.

CITEWorld‘s Mary Branscombe perfectly summed up the chopped off finger back in 2013 when the debate first hit popular consciousness,

‘The iPhone 5S’s fingerprint reader relies on “the living layer of skin under the surface of your finger.’

However, in her enthusiastic rush to dispel every glove lover’s nightmare, Branscombe brazenly overlooked a far more obvious security flaw.

HTC Fingerprint scanner: The Real Problem

Consider this: A possessive girlfriend doesn’t need to use sharp garden secateurs to cut off her partner’s finger. She can just put the finger on his locked iPhone: while he drunkenly snoozes on the sofa.

Having easily opened up her boyfriend’s fingerprint secured iPhone: She discovers an incriminating amount of secret correspondences on Ashley Madison: well before hackers even got close to penetrating the sexy servers.

You may well laugh or criticise the moral choices made by the imaginary protagonists. However, like Noam Chomsky famously said ‘if you don’t believe in freedom of speech for your enemies, then you don’t believe in it at all’. With that in mind, privacy can be understood to be something that ought to be completely under the control of the phone’s owner.

In fact, the possibilities are near endless: Perhaps your sleeping finger is used to unlock your phone; allowing your kid sister’s delinquent friend to buy 200 dollars worth of Ozzy Osbourne records.


Nice one HTC, you really got the fingerprint scanner working perfectly this time: well done.

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