The much-hyped fingerprint scanner on Samsung’s flagship handset the Galaxy S5 can be fooled just days after the device was launched.
Researchers at Germany’s Security Research Labs (SRLabs) publicised their findings in a YouTube clip. According to the narrator, the scanner was hoodwinked "under lab conditions, but is based on nothing more than a camera phone photo" of a print left on the phone's screen.
A mould is then made from the digital photo of the fingerprint, into which wood glue is poured: the resulting shape can be pressed against the S5's scanner to authenticate as the victim.
The hack is concerning given that it grants access to “highly sensitive apps” such as PayPal, giving “a would-be attacker an even greater incentive to learn the simple skill of fingerprint spoofing”, the researchers said.
PayPal claimed fingerprint authentication still offers “an easier and more secure way to pay” on mobiles than passwords and PINs. It issued the following statement in a bid to head of a potential consumer backlash:
PayPal never stores or even has access to your actual fingerprint with authentication on the Galaxy S5. The scan unlocks a secure cryptographic key that serves as a password replacement for the phone. We can simply deactivate the key from a lost or stolen device, and you can create a new one. PayPal also uses sophisticated fraud and risk management tools to try to prevent fraud before it happens. However, in the rare instances that it does, your eligible transactions are covered by our buyer protection policy.
Another criticism of Samsung is that it has failed to learn from the mistakes of other tech companies which have gone before it in trying to implement effective biometric authentication systems.
Most notably, the Touch ID fingerprint scanner on Apple’s iPhone 5S was hacked by Chaos Computer Club just 48 hours after its launch last September, using a similar method to SRLabs.
Unlike the Apple device, the S5 currently does not require a password to authenticate after a certain number of incorrect attempts to swipe in. This means attackers can theoretically have as many goes as they like as long as they reboot the handset every so often.
This kind of oversight is surprising considering the amount of money Samsung has spent on building its latest star handset.
A teardown by analyst IHS iSuppli estimates the total bill of materials at $256.52 (£153) for a 32GB version, significantly more than an iPhone 5S with the same amount of NAND flash memory, which comes in at $207 (£123.80).
Major costs attached to the new device include the Qualcomm MSM8974AC processor at an estimated $41 (£24.50) which, when combined with NAND and DRAM, comes to $102.37 (£61).
The 1920x1080 OLED display is the next priciest component at $63, followed by the 16MP and 2MP cameras ($18.70, £11) and the 2 x 2800mAh 3.85V Li Ion batteries ($11, £6.60).
The fingerprint scanner is not broken out by cost although the market analyst claimed that the S5 has more sensors “than IHS has ever detected in a smartphone design”.
Samsung HQ couldn't immediately be reached for comment on the SRLabs research. ®