An employee tests the fingerprint scanner on the new Apple iPhone 5S at a Verizon store in Orem, Utah September 19, 2013. The iPhone 5C, which comes in blue, green, pink, yellow and white, starts in the U.S. at $99 with a contract and the pricier "5S" begins at $199 with a contract. Both models go on sale in several countries on September 20.
Photo: REUTERS/George Frey
Photo: REUTERS/George Frey

Hackers have their eyes on new iPhone fingerprint security

The race is on to see who will be the first to hack the new fingerprint security feature on Apple’s new top-of-the-line iPhone 5S.

A venture capital firm, researchers and hackers were each pledging hundreds and thousands of dollars, along with bottles of booze and other goodies, to the first person who hacks the device in a contest promoted on istouchidhackedyet.com.

IO Capital’s founding partner Arturas Rosenbacher told Reuters the goal of the competition is “to fix a problem before it becomes a problem.” The Chicago firm has put up $10,000 for the competition.

The home button on the 5S is also a fingerprint scanner. Whether hackers can obtain a copy of a 5S owner’s fingerprint from some other source and try to use it to gain access to the owner’s phone is a matter of debate. The “Touch ID” capacitive sensor is superthin — 170 microns — and scans sub-epidermal skin layers with 360-degree reliability, Apple said.

It isn’t unusual for tech companies to invite others to try to hack their products to find vulnerabilities so security can be improved.

Apple apparently already is responding to a compromise in its new iOS 7 operating system, which millions of users began downloading Wednesday. The vulnerability, reported by Forbes, allowed a user to bypass a locked screen to access photos, email, Twitter and other applications. Apple told Reuters a fix is in the works.

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