With new fingerprint scanning features, smartphones are starting to offer better security for authentication and online transactions. Apple incorporated a touch-based fingerprint scanner in its flagship iPhone 5S in 2013. Samsung has also included a fingerprint scanner in its latest hero phone, the Galaxy S5.
Applications for fingerprint scanning are quite limited at the moment. Primarily, these are meant to replace PINs, passwords and patterns for unlocking a device. However, the applications certainly have bigger potential. Apple is already gearing toward incorporating Touch ID as a means of authenticating payments via iTunes and iBeacon. Meanwhile, PayPal is now supporting fingerprint authentication in its Android app alongside the Galaxy S5′s fingerprint scanner.
The future may hold a bigger promise, however. A patent application made by Samsung indicates that the company may be working on an even more innovative use of fingerprint scanning for authentication. In the patent application, Samsung describes several methods for authenticating a purchase, such as through PIN, password, pattern, and even fingerprint scans. An interesting addition is the inclusion of multiple fingers for stronger authentication.
For example, instead of having to swipe just your forefinger, you can set the system up such that it requires you to swipe your right and left forefingers to authenticate.
There are limitations to this concept, particularly since current devices only support single finger scanning at any given time. But in future, Samsung may use either an optical or capacitive system built right on the screen for scanning multiple fingers simultaneously.
Apart from finger-based authentication, this system also has the potential to be used for gesture controls. For instance, tapping your thumb and forefinger on certain parts of the screen can open a certain application. Tapping different finger combinations might then open a different app or do a certain action.
Authentication methods are certainly evolving, all in the name of providing better security while still offering convenience. Biometrics is one way by which this balance can be achieved, since the system will be required to detect something that is distinctly yours (fingerprints, for example), while making it painless for users to confirm identities.
This particular patent application was filed by Samsung in Q3 2013, which means the company had been considering such a system even before it released the latest Galaxy S5. Perhaps in future, upcoming flagship devices will highlight fingerprint scanners or other biometric systems that are more sophisticated than current iterations. But given the time-lags between conceptualizing technology, filing a patent and actually developing the product, there is no assurance when — or even if — this tech will make an appearance in actual devices.
In the end, the question is whether this will be useful in practical, real-world applications, or if we will still fall back to the use of PINs and passwords as a security measure.