Towards understanding how Touch ID impacts users’ authentication secrets selection for iPhone lock.

Ivan Cherapau

08 March 2015

Abstract: Smartphones today store large amounts of data that can be confidential, private or sensitive. To protect such data, all mobile OSs have a phone lock mechanism, a mechanism that requires user authentication in order to access applications or data on the phone, while also allowing to keep data-at-rest encrypted with encryption key dependent on the authentication secret. Recently Apple has introduced Touch ID feature that allows to use a fingerprint-based authentication to unlock an iPhone. The intuition behind such technology was that its usability would motivate users to use stronger passwords for locking their devices without sacrificing usability substantially. To this date, it is not clear, however, if users take an advantage of Touch ID technology and if they, indeed, employ stronger authentication secrets. It is the main objective and the contribution of this work to fill this knowledge gap. In order to answer this question, we conducted three user studies (a) an in-person survey with 90 subjects, (b) an interview study with 21 participants, and (c) an online survey with 374 subjects. Overall we found that users do not take an advantage of Touch ID and use weak authentication secrets, mainly PIN-codes, similarly to those users who do not have Touch ID sensor on their devices. To our surprise, we found that more than 30% of subjects in each group did not know that they could use alphanumeric passwords instead of four digits PIN-codes. Others stated that they adopted PIN-codes due to better usability in comparison to passwords. Most of the subjects agreed that Touch ID, indeed, offers usability benefits such as convenience, speed and ease of use. Finally, we found that there is a disconnect between users desires for security that their passcodes have to offer and the reality. In particular, only 12% of participants correctly estimated the security PIN-codes provide while the rest had unjustified expectations.

Keyword(s): Smartphone ; Security ; iPhone ; Touch ID ; Authentication

Published in: LERSSE-THESIS-2015-003:

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 Record created 2015-08-03, last modified 2015-08-14

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