Apple describes how to give authentication the finger

Apple describes how to give authentication the finger

Summary: Patent application describes delivery of another identity factor just as cloud services make push for strong authentication.


In a patent application filing Thursday, Apple revealed the technological underpinning of fingerprint scanning technology the company could use as part of a next-generation authentication system for its phones, tablets and laptops.

There is widespread speculation that the iPhone 5S, which is expected to ship this fall, will include fingerprint-scanning technology.

Multi-factor authentication schemes are beginning to find favor with online services, but most rely on a code sent to a user's phone. Apple's biometric authentication via a fingerprint could be used independently or as part of a two-factor authentication.

CrucialTec earlier this year demonstrated a fingerprint scanner for mobile phones and Samsung is rumored to be developing the technology.

The newly formed Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance, which is focused on strong authentication, lays out a finger sensor option that would be paired with protocols it is developing. FIDO has been tracking the newest iPhone and other fingerprint scanner developments with keen interest, as the Alliance would provide the plumbing for biometric authentication at scale for cloud-based services.

Apple's patent application describes a technology that would use the touchscreen along with an array of pixel sensors and electrodes under the screen, all of which fits within the rumored iPhone 5S design. The arrangement of the pixel sensors and electrodes would define the fingerprint sensor area on the phone's screen.

The technology described in the patent application comes via AuthenTec, which Apple acquired in 2012 for $365 million.

The application was authored by Dale Setlak, AuthenTec's former vice president of research and development.

Setlak lays out the design for a finger sensor with touch screen inputs. Setlak's design does not call for any input keys, but does say the fingerprint sensor could be used with portable or stationary electronic devices.

The design describes arrays of pixel sensors and electrodes to collect measurements. The design allows for a selection of measurement schemes that would allow 2-dimentional measurements, which are considered to be a more accurate read on the user's fingerprint.

Setlak also writes that electrodes used in gathering measurements could serve double-duty as touch sensing pixels when the fingerprint reading function is not in use.

The full draft of the patent applications is available at the US Patent and Trademark Office website.

Topics: Security, Cloud, Networking


John Fontana is a journalist focusing on authentication, identity, privacy and security issues. Currently, he is the Identity Evangelist for strong authentication vendor Yubico, where he also blogs about industry issues and standards work, including the FIDO Alliance.

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  • have you seen the videos on fingerprint

    access support in Windows 8.1?

    Apple may be a bit late to the dance here me thinks.
    • nothing to do

      That Microsoft integrated the driver software in Windows has nothing to do with the Apple development of *hardware* to do fingerprint scans on mobile devices' screen.

      Eventually, Microsoft might license the scanning hardware from Apple.
  • Win 8.1 fingerprint support
    • Unbelievable.

      You're actually commenting on a post you either haven't read or have no comprehension of what it says.
    • Unbelievable.

      You're actually commenting on a post you either haven't read or have no comprehension of what it says.
    • Once again, Microsoft is innovating

      apple is copying.
  • "delivery of another identity factor"

    Unbelievable. You're actually crediting Apple with discovering fingerprints? (I don't care that the article describes fingerprint scanning hardware -- that's what your headline says). Let me guess -- the scanner will be aluminum with rounded corners, causing applegasms the world over.
    • Unbelievable.

      You're actually commenting on a post you either haven't read or have no comprehension of what it says.
    • You didn't read the article either..

      did you?
    • Nice post


  • Of course apple is claiming to have invented the fingerprint scanner


    • And yet another one...

      who has no idea of what he just read. Assuming, of course, that he actually read the article.

      Which I doubt.
    • Todd, it's Saturday!

      I didn't realize you worked weekends. Is this OT?
  • I just saw 2 really important names in this article

    CrucialTec and AuthenTec.

    Not Apple (who's yet acquired another really innovative company), not Microsoft (they weren't even mentioned in the article) and not Samsung (who is developing a new technology, I assume based on collaboration with CrucialTec).

    @msalzberg, with your comments on others, methinks that you have read and comprehended the article, but choose not to say anything about it?
    • Then you didn't read the article either as Apple was mentioned five times