Friday, 27 July 2012

What does Apple's acquisition of AuthenTec tell us about biometrics on mobile devices?

I am not surprised with the news that Apple has acquired mobile security and fingerprint sensor vendor AuthenTec in a deal worth $356m. 

I have been following the mobile security market since 2004 and this has included the publication of a report for my research and consultancy company, Goode Intelligence, on mobile biometric security published in June of 2011. Smart Mobile Devices (SMDs), a term that we use to define smart phones and tablets, have become the portable computer of choice for both personal and business use. However, questions remain as to the effectiveness of security controls for these devices with the recent Black Hat conference in Las Vegas being dominated by presentations that detail the vulnerabilities of these devices. 

Apple's acquisition of AuthenTec, who are not just about fingerprint sensors, is a positive move by the Cupertino-based company and could lead to next generation Apple products having embedded security controls, both hardware and software-based. 

As seen in the Goode Intelligence annual mSecurity survey report, Apple iOS has become the number one choice for the enterprise. This position will be well and truly cemented if Apple strengthens its security as a result of the AuthenTec acquisition. 

Will this mean embedded fingerprint sensors in next generation Apple products including the iPhone and the iPad? With the acquisition of AuthenTec this has become more likely. I interviewed AuthenTec as part of my research into the mobile biometric market and back in May 2011 they said this; “the integration of fingerprint sensors into wireless smart phones, feature phones and tablets is in its early stages and will accelerate.” Accelerate as a result of being in every iPhone and iPad? A distinct possibility.

Embedded fingerprint sensors on mobile devices are being used to protect the phone (augment standard phone lock as my Motorola Atrix 4G admirably does) and to provide authentication to support NFC-based transactions, including payments, at physical locations. AuthenTec has been doing well in this market since 2004 when it first supplied fingerprint sensors for Fujitsu mobile phones to be used to secure mobile payments for NTT DoCoMo in Japan. With rumours that the next generation iPhone (iPhone 5) will support NFC, will Apple be combining biometric authentication through the use of an embedded fingerprint sensor for mobile payments at the physical point-of-sale?

I was pretty cautious when forecasting the growth of mobile biometric security products and services back in 2011, predicting that the market would grow to 39 million users by 2015. This quote from the report highlights this"The market is currently slow; but pressure is growing. Things could change rapidly, from an interesting concept to a 'must have' for all smart mobile devices."

I did go on to make a conditional statement that is very relevant with this news;

"However, this could all be thrown on its head with the introduction of embedded biometrics on mobile devices by one of the major manufacturers – and not just a single product line but standard on all mobile phone products. The market is always eagerly waiting for the next generation of Apple iPhones and rumours are circulating that Apple iPhone 5 may include some form of biometric technology."

Could this news be the catalyst to accelerate the adoption of biometric security onto smart mobile devices - there is now much more of a chance of this happening. I look forward to seeing how Apple build on AuthenTec's success in the mobile security world.

For news, opinion and analysis on all things mobile security follow me on Twitter - @goodeintel

1 comment:

  1. Great post Alan, thanks for the analysis. We feel that this acquisition by Apple will certainly raise the exposure of using biometrics for security on mobile devices just because of Apple's brand power. It will be interesting to see if other biometric modalities (vascular, iris, etc.) will also move to the forefront of development for mobile devices.