iPhone’s New Facial Recognition: Are Security Worries Justified?

Rob McAllister

Rob McAllister

September 20, 2017

People are freaking out over the new iPhone X facial recognition feature, but are the security risks as critical as people fear?


As Apple takes its latest step forward in biometric identification, the world waits with baited breath to find out whether the facial recognition feature will be a jewel in the crown of its flagship device, or a thorn in the company’s side for the next 12 months. Biometrics, though – even facial recognition – is nothing new, so why all the fuss?

Facial Recognition Is Nothing New

Facial recognition is currently enjoying plenty of attention. You could be forgiven for believing that face ID is cutting edge. However, the technology has been available since 2005 when it was first marketed for flip-phones and PDAs!

For as long as the technology has been available, questions over security and difficulties in using the feature have prevented manufacturers from implementing it more widely. The most successful attempt to date was, arguably, featured on the Samsung Galaxy range as far back as the S2. Yet very few people seem to use it.

True to form, Apple decided to play the long game and wait for any potential problems in the technology to be ironed out before releasing its own, hopefully superior, version.

However, despite assurances that all security flaws have been dealt with, customer anxiety is proving hard to sooth.

How Does It Work?

Samsung’s facial recognition feature relies on scanning the unique patterns of your eye’s iris. Apple has combined this with a variety of methods to model the shape and contours of your face.

The iPhone X’s True Depth camera houses a collection of seven different cameras and sensors. These include a crucial proximity sensor. This allows the iPhone X 3D to differentiate between your physical face and an image of your face.

Once the phone has scanned your face, your biometric data is stored in your phones ‘secure enclave.’ There, it is inaccessible to your phone’s operating system and any applications or invaders.

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Will It Work?

After the widely reported failure of the feature during the demonstration by Apple VP Chris Federighi, Apple was quick to defend Face ID, saying it worked exactly as it should have done.

The device, they claimed, disabled the feature after scanning the faces of the various employees who handled it prior to the demo. This begs the question, what happens when you use your device in crowded spaces?

The main concerns, however, seem to come not from the functionality of the feature, but from the fear that it may work a little too well.

Will Your iPhone Stay Locked When You Want It To?


The biggest fear seems to be whether, given the opportunity, thieves, the police, or even a curious other-half could gain access to your device while you were, for example, sleeping soundly. To mitigate this issue, Face ID requires you to make eye contact with the device rather than simply reading the contours of your face.

Furthermore, unlike the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus’s fingerprint scanners, Apple’s Face ID will allow only one user to register their biometric data. This may prove inconvenient in the future if the feature is rolled out on other devices, such as family iPads. However, in its early days it seems sensible to take this precautionary measure to keep security as tight as possible.

Is It Any Better Than a Fingerprint Scan?

It seems the main reason for Face ID’s inclusion on the iPhone X is the model’s new bezel-free design. After a failed attempt to embed a fingerprint scanner under the phone screen, Apple was left with little choice but to include the Face ID, in order to enable two step verification.

The only other benefit, according to cyber security expert Leigh-Anne Galloway, is that the device can’t be unlocked while you’re asleep.

What If Someone Breaks into Your Device?

Of course, the facial recognition feature will only stop snoopers from unlocking your phone. There are plenty of other ways to steal your private information while you’re actually using it. That’s why it’s more important now than ever that you take precautions to keep your data safe. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are among the best tools for this.

Take a look at our comprehensive guides to the five best VPNs to use with iOS devices, and the five best VPNs for Mac OSX in order to keep your data as secure as possible.

Image credit: chombosan/



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