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back to article For PITY'S SAKE, DON'T BUY an iPHONE 5S, begs FSF

The Free Software Foundation has taken issue with fingerprint recognition in the iPhone 5S and has called on users to reject Apple’s closed system smartphones. Executive director John Sullivan used the launch of the iPhone 5S and 5C on Tuesday to zero in on the iPhone 5S, the expensive iPhone variant that comes equipped with a …

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JDX
Gold badge

Blah blah blah

Nobody who buys into the FSF has an iPhone, those like to buy an iPhone couldn't care less about what the FSF has to say.

This is nothing more than one group trying to get publicity of another's launch.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Blah blah blah

They do have a point though. A universal finger print scanner that, in all probability will be stored within the US domiciled iCloud, either through backups or some other mechanism, that shady agencies can get access to for the slightest of reasons. They have an instant, convenient large database of fingerprints without the rigmarole of having to charge the users, data protection or that whole inconvenient innocent until proven guilt fad - it's all there, freely given up!

A year ago this would have been dismissed as tin-foil paranoia. Now, it doesn't seem that far fetched...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Blah blah blah

And...point, completely missed.

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Stop

Re: Blah blah blah

So cool an US corporation having the means to store fingerprints! That way no need to wait to someone visit the US to scan his/her fingers and eyes! And so easy to make silicon replicas and put you on a cooked crime scene!

Yeah, call me paranoid and publicity sucker...

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Stop

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

You missed the bit where Apple said that fingerprint data would only ever be stored inside of the A7 chip and be accessed by their security API? You've got some evidence to disprove that?

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

Since we have no access to the source code, we have no evidence to prove that what they claim is true. Or that their "security API" doesn't also include an undocumented "Hi, NSA, look at all this data" feature.

etc.

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

That specifically? No.

On the other hand they may be legally unable to reveal that all fingerprint data is sent straight to the government, because it turns out we do actually live in that sort of Kafka-esque world after all, with secret trials, secret evidence gathering, gag orders etc etc

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

I did see that. Thing is, I don't trust them. And that brings us back to the article in question: "Reject the iPhone 5S, begs FSF: You don't know WHAT'S IN IT"

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

By implication fingerprint verification is done in hardware on the A7 chip. How are your VHDL/Verilog reading skills? There's no such thing as a totally open system, and even as close as we get to it there isn't anyone who understands the whole system in its entirety.

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

And what happens to that inaccessible black box of fingerprint dat when you trade in or lose your phone?

If someone is able to crack the black box and make a simple web tool (web tools seem popular), then what's stopping someone from thieving your biometrics straight from your handset? No need for snooping.

Not so improbable when you consider how easy it is to recover data from supposedly erased iPhones. I remember giving my sister my old 3GS after thinking I'd erased it, yet lo and behold she started receiving iMessages sent to me (they've patched that now, but took their time).

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Stop

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

Your tinfoil hat is loose. You don't store images of fingerprints, you store signature data. It's like saying you can steal the contents of a file because you know it's hash.

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

Sigh. but it's your fingerprints... You know what, if you loose your phone (even if it doesn't have a fingerprint scanner on it) there will be an easier, low tech method to obtain your print...

You know what... if you're so paranoid about your fingerprints falling into the wrong hanfs, why do you leave them everywhere?

It's fingerprints people, and you know, for now, that's of limited interest to most, if not all criminals....

What people are worried about are law enforcement, not joe criminal.

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Silver badge

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

Storing a fingerprint inside the chip sounds like a Stephen Fry explanation to me so no I don't trust it.

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Re: "tinfoil hat"

Hah people still try the "tinfoil hat" slur, with everything going on these days. Pathetic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Blah blah blah

Apple have said it is locked in the fingerprint scanner subsystem never to get out. We have no way of verifying that. However I tend to believe corporation when they say things like that loudly and unequivocally. The reason being I used to work in a corporation and remember full well the often paranoid suspicions of customers about deliberate corporate malpractice and crafty screwing of customers that were invariably simply untrue. Also people outside corporations tend to think there is a cosy group of fat-cats at the top prepared to twist rules to get what they want. The reality however is that in any of the big corporations I've worked in, asking for some dodgy deal to be ratified by legal would simply be wholly unacceptable, there are too many people from too many walks of life, and too much in the way of the rule of law. It is highly unlikely Phil Schiller would say what he said, make himself a hostage to fortune, and tell porkies for the world and his colleagues to see if he didn't think what he was saying was true.

As to whether there is a back-door he might not be aware of though - with all the shenanigans the NSA has been up to, that's a quite different matter.

The corporate I worked for had a very bad name for a while (due to digging up all the streets to install network). And people always attributed the worst motives to everything we did. To be fair there were some pretty shoddy PR cock-ups, but that's the point, they were cock-ups and not conspiracy. Like the time one of our contractors digging up a road, hit a gas main and blew up a house. The company rushed out an apology and PR statement saying compensation would be paid, the house repaired to a state better than it's previous condition and that the occupant would be receiving free cable for life. Only the statement was rushed out before checking who the occupant was. The Free Cable for life offer didn't go down to well with the press when it turned out the occupant was a 90 year old lady.

The point I'm making is that the press were attributing the worst and most cynical motives to the episode as though the company were trying to skimp on paying out, when the reality was it was pure cock-up. As though a large corporation with deep pockets, faced with those circumstances, would do anything other than say "were really sorry, we'll pay."

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Facepalm

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

> You missed the bit where Apple said

I have a bridge to sell you.

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

If you've ever visited the US then the US government already has your fingerprints — all visitors are required to provide them at the border.

If you carry a mobile phone then you almost certainly already allow yourself to be tracked — probably you provided details of your identity to obtain the device but even if not then you can likely be identified by the contents of your communications.

As I've visited the US and carry a contract mobile, I seem already to have sold myself out. Something about locking stable doors jumps to mind. It'd be nice to believe that everybody else has managed to avoid becoming traceable but it sounds unlikely, so while I strongly ideologically support a stand against increasing biometric intrusion, it's likely a token gesture.

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

I've visited the US and they don't have my fingerprints.

Now if you had said, if you've visited the US in the last 10 years or so, then it'd be closer to true. Incidental it's why I've not been back since.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Blah blah blah

They specifically said at the event that the fingerprints are only stored on the device and are NOT uploaded via iTunes or to iCloud.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

In fact, if you have applied for even a B1/B2 visa, they will have ten-printed you as well. So even if you haven't yet visited the US, it's possible they already have your fingerprints.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

Seems like every other time I log on to, open or otherwise look cross at an Apple product I have to agree to some new license agreement. Nah, they'll ALWAYS only ever store it on the chip...until we change the license. "Oh come on, click on agree. You know you want to. What are you going to do? Give up your iPhone and use something else? Muwahahhahahahahahahah!"

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Silver badge

Re: Blah blah blah

"are NOT uploaded via iTunes or to iCloud."

Rather too specific a denial to me.

I'd fell better about it if they said it wasn't uploaded anywhere at all.

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Re: Blah blah blah

The fingerprint doesn't leave the device. Sounds like an apple restriction I can get behind. But hey, lets not let that stop the FSF trying to get some attention with their tantrum.

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Inside the chip, not uploaded...

Words are very precise. This does not mean the same as "cannot be accessed by NSA". Perhaps they're stored in signature form inside a chip inside a system with a dirty great back door, and the signature hash can be downloaded and added to the database by whoever. A big database of hashed prints might be every bit as useful as full scans, or maybe moreso as it's already in searchable form?

The whole point is that we don't know.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Blah blah blah

CNN is already covering the device as "IPhone fingerprint scanner will start security revolution".

money dot cnn.com/2013/09/11/technology/security/iphone-fingerprint-scanner/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Ah, iSheep.

Can we PLEASE amend the classic phrase to "A fool and his money, plus his data and privacy as well as his rights to expect thereto, are soon easily parted".

I await the run on the those pretty-shiny fruity stores by the great unwashed masses, looking for their next salvation in soul-selling technology. They have proven that they will gladly give away anything they own - including both their money and their life history - if only to acquire the next fashioin trend.

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Silver badge

Re: Blah blah blah

Just a technical question - what is the quality/resolution/accuracy of these scanners? I saw one on a work laptop the other day, looks like a flat dimple that reminds me of the audio/tracking head in an old Betamax. Do you drag your finger down it or what? While the result might be biometrically "you" as opposed to "me", does it bear sufficient resemblance to a genuine inky paw print?

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Silver badge

Re: Blah blah blah

"Also people outside corporations tend to think there is a cosy group of fat-cats at the top prepared to twist rules to get what they want." - "sponsored lobby group" and "party political donation" come to mind.

Oh wait? You meant break the law? Why bother doing that when you are big enough to exert pressure to ameliorate current legislation to your favour, or just be too big and important to knock down (hello ebooks pricing, I'm looking at you).

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

None of us missed that bit. We just don't believe it.

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JDX
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an instant, convenient large database of fingerprints

Surely the same principles as passwords apply here - you don't store the actual fingerprint, only a way to verify it.

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

But in that case you have no idea what's in any system. Just because the FSF SAYS that "their" version is free, you have no proof of that. They're just as likely to be misleading you as anyone else (or more likely, take your pick).

Trust NOBODY !

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Coat

Re: Blah blah blah

They specifically said at the event that the fingerprints are only stored on the device and are NOT uploaded via iTunes or to iCloud.

OK, but what is this iNSA thingie here...?

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

@Steve Todd 14:41 said: you missed the bit where Apple said that fingerprint data would only ever be stored inside of the A7 chip and be accessed by their security API

And you obviously missed Obama overruling the ban of iPhone sales handed to Apple by the courts, weeks before Apple introduced a fingerprint scanner into iDevices? Coincidence?

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Silver badge

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

> I've visited the US and they don't have my fingerprints.

Do they do this in the non-US citzen line? I just got back from a trip to Europe and I don't recall seeing any mechanism or apparatus where they could/would get your fingerprints.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Blah blah blah

They specifically said at the event that the fingerprints are only stored on the device and are NOT uploaded via iTunes or to iCloud.

So, just like the SSL people specifically said the certificates and encryption were never released... and now we find out that government agencies (e.g. GCHQ, NSA etc) can access "secure" SSL data through backdoor cheats built into the system specifically for that purpose.

If they can do it, they will do it. They are spooks after all.

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

This! So very this. What people say about security and what actually happens aren't the same thing. Imagine:

1: They're plain lying and handing fingerprints to the NSA.

2: They hand a hash to their cloud (and thus the NSA) but it's a really weak one.

3: Their device security is weak and it's easy to get the fingerprints and/or their hashes off the device.

Plain-lying used to be the tinfoil brigade, but as we've seen, the weirdy beardies are kinda turning out to be correct.

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Re: an instant, convenient large database of fingerprints

Well, you *shouldn't* store the fingerprint. That doesn't mean they don't - think of all the stories of supposedly professional services keeping plaintext passwords. And it doesn't mean the code is well-written - it could easily have a recent_scans cache that is more vulnerable than the identity data proper.

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Re: Blah blah blah

I'm in the middle on this one. JDX and Steve Todd are correct in saying that a proper fingerprint reader doesn't store an image of the actual fingerprint. It takes certain specific points and uses them as the basis for a hash (equivalent to a really complex password). The worry that people have about having to get new fingers if the reader is compromised is silly - delete the old file, re-enrol the finger(s), and all is back to good, just like setting a new password. In addition, it makes no more obvious sense that the iPhone sends its fingerprint data anywhere in "the cloud" than does my Lenovo X61, or anything with a password entered the old way.

However, given the recent confirmation of what bastards the security agencies and various companies, especially the USA-ican ones, are regarding personal data, the very specific comment about where things aren't sent raises flags. It is hard to trust anyone at the moment, especially those with past form for being secretive - which defines Apple to the core (pun intended).

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

You know, if someone stole you're iphone or any nice glossy phone they could probably lift your finger prints off the case anyway so why bother trying to crack into the security chip in the first place! The cops have been getting finger prints in that way for decades!!! It does also beg one question, how secure is a finger print scanner when the finger prints to unlock the device are probably all over the device in question?

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Big Brother

Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

You are quite right. There is only on answer to this: if you buy an iPhone 5S then i am afraid that the first thing an AppleStore will have to do is to use an acidbath to erase your fingerprints and use a blunt spoon to scoop out your eyeballs.

That way you will be completely and totally safe from the NSA, the Free Software Foundation will applaud you and bloggers all over the world will rejoice that someone had the strength of character to deny the nasty corporate dataminers their biometric data.

Of course the fact that the NSA has been storing your voice data from Siri for the past few years is by the by ... How do you think Snowden got as far as Moscow, if not by using Putin's voiceprint?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: an instant, convenient large database of fingerprints

The new iPhone's two killer new features:

1) A bling new fingerprint scanner that the iTards will all obligingly scan their own fingerprints with in order to operate their new shiny... possibly or possibly not transmitting fingerprint images to god only knows who.

2) A bling new motion sensor circuit which remains on and actively tracking the iTard's movements at all times... possibly or possibly not transmitting the tracking data to god only knows who.

Methinks NSA might be "assisting" Apple's "innovation" department.

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Re: Blah blah blah -@AC 14:24

Blimey. You stood right in front of the fingerprint scanner at US customs & border protection. It's on every line. You must provide fingerprints if you are a non-citizen.

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J 3
Big Brother

Good point

As a friend commented this morning: iPhone fingerprint scanner = free NSA fingerprint / location / name database.

Cliché icon, I know.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Good point

Exactly. If anything, the FSF's debate on this topic is simply not focused enough (as witnessed by the "blah blah blah entry, above"). If the FSF has said, point blank:

"Apple's new fingerprint scanner, in association with their closed ecosystem, guarantees that you will have NO audit trail to your personal and very private biometric data. Will you be able to tell exactly who has access to your fingerprint, and when??"

then people would understand the [serious] concern here. But they didn't, so people don't.

Fingerprint scanner + closed system access to users = "NO"

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Re: Good point

Yes, because on your open system, you audit every piece of code you install and your skills for detecting issues is beyond any hacker?

Open or closed makes no difference if you're not checking. Apple is closed, but they do check. Now, are their checks good enough, that's another story, but with a closed system such as apple, at lease someone is checking. How many unchecked 'droid apps get installed every day?

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Re: Good point

Even with 'droid (some of) the libraries that link the OS to the hardware have to be provided by the manufacturers, the OS only provides a framework, so you still have closed elements - I don't know of any manufacturer who publishes those libraries.

This really isn't a straightforward problem, except to say that you shouldn't carry a phone at all if any of this stuff is an issue for you. At the very least, don't buy an iPhone 5S; it's not rocket science.

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Re: Good point

>> How many unchecked 'droid apps get installed every day?

The point is not Android vs iPhone. The FSF are not coming forward as Android fanboys, and I'm sure they're aware that not everything is open about android either.

The point is that, in isolation, not comparing to other vendors, not making favourites out of anything else at all, the iPhone is a closed ecosystem and you cannot know what's going on there, and this is pretty much against everything the FSF think is right and good with the world.

Open systems at least *can* be audited, and you hope that with a fully open system (which I agree, android as it comes from a manufacturer is not either) then people have eyes on it.

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Silver badge

Re: Good point

"Open systems at least *can* be audited, and you hope that with a fully open system (which I agree, android as it comes from a manufacturer is not either) then people have eyes on it."

Christ! How many ordinary people audit anything of this nature? If somebody (FSF or otherwise) does it for us, can we trust them? If so, upon what basis?

But, more realistically, what about the reams of private information we send god-only-knows-where? I will give you two examples:

1) I live in France. My British passport needed renewal. I filled in all the bits of paper, and gave my mobile number for contacting me along with photos and such and such. None of this is unusual. What is unusual was that a few weeks following my application, my French mobile (not a number I give out freely) started to receive spam texts in English. While I cannot say absolutely that the passport service gave out my private contact details, it seems pretty coincidental timing. So, where is the audit trail here? I can be reasonably certain that the UK government is a load of spineless twats so they'll have sent the lot to the Americans; but was the information also left on a USB key on the Tube? Or did they have the nerve to charge more than the rest of the civilised world for a passport and sell my data? If so, how much of it? [PS that number expired two years ago, snigger snigger]

2) Ever fill out a census form? Where did you send it? What was done with that information? How can you be certain?

2.5) Ditto loan applications, job applications, etc etc. We spaffify personal data with alarming frequency and in many cases no audit trail is possible. In a world where it can be a battle getting access to all the data held on us, also getting access to what was done with this data and who it was shared with...well, that's just not gonna happen.

But, hey, rant about the iPhone instead if it'll make ya feel happier...

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Re: Good point

The point is not that spuds like you and me can audit it.

The point is that boffins we trust can audit it.

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Re: Good point

"The point is that boffins we trust can audit it." - who's that, then?

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bad taste

".. by saying he was glad Jobs was gone because the Apple boss had exerted a "malign influence" on computing with his closed systems..."

I have no love for apple but i'm not wishing anyone i dislike dead.

Someone saying that just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you know..

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