Apple wants to change the way you unlock your ‘computing devices’ – be those laptops, tablets, or phones – and has filed a patent application for its proposed method. The application was filed in August 2011, and it’s become public today.
Apple seems to think that current methods for securing a device from unauthorized use are simply not good (or secure) enough, so it’s thought up a new way to do things.
Say you currently use a PIN-based unlock procedure for your phone or tablet. Someone might see you unlock your device (e.g. in a means of public transportation), and then easily be able to replicate the PIN if this person were to steal your device (or you’d lose it and they’d find it). Similarly, on touchscreen devices one can sometimes infer a PIN code based on fingerprints. This isn’t particularly fast, since you do need some time to run through all of the possible combinations, but it isn’t that much of a deal either.
So what does Apple propose? Say you have an iPhone. You press the button, the screen lights up, and you’re presented with an image. You then need to identify an object or a person inside that image. You can perform this description or identification either with your voice (if your friend Jane is in the pic, just say ‘Jane’), by typing on the keyboard which may pop up, or you may have to choose the right answer from a number of names (as shown in the drawing above). Once you’ve successfully done this step, your phone is unlocked. Though this can obviously apply for tablets or laptops too. You may be shown one image, or more, and for each you’ll have to identify what or who is in them.
There will obviously be more than one image that the system will randomly pick each time you want to unlock your device. The more the better, in fact. This way, the chances of someone on the bus, who might find or steal your device, getting access to it are minimal.
This in fact is extremely similar to what Facebook currently does if you get locked out of your account (say, because someone malicious gained access to it), or simply if it detects some kinds of ‘suspicious activity’ going on with your account (such as logins from wildly different places on Earth at short intervals). You’re then asked to identify some of your friends, using only pictures of their faces.
Apple’s system will require you to choose which images will be used for authentication beforehand (possibly within the Photos app). And aside from people, they can have other things in them too – the patent application lists “an uncommon animal or insect”, or a certain place of which only you know as other ideas. Clearly though, this system’s actual level of security depends on you. Because you choose the images, and then you pre-identify what’s in them. So if you pick an image of an apple, for example, and identify it as being an apple, then anyone will be able to bypass this swanky new authorization method in no time.
Still, user error aside, this does provide an interesting twist to the whole unlocking mobile devices thing. Google’s got Face Unlock, maybe Apple will put this into its next iterations of iOS and Mac OS?
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