Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fingerprint Authentication is a Big Deal (at least for me it is)

I’ve been a smartphone user for close to a decade now. There are some conveniences—mobile internet, email, and camera, for example—I now take for granted. Other features, such as the ability to check my bank account balances via mobile app, have been available for a while, but slightly more cumbersome due to password authentication. Having to both recall and manually enter credentials to various services often outweighed the convenience and speed that was part of the selling point. While I understand the need for security, it did not make it any easier for me to quickly remember and enter the correct password for my banking app to check my balance while in line at the grocery store.

Utilizing a password manager has partly addressed this problem. I have used LastPass in my browser for a while now, though the LastPass mobile app had limitations—most notably, it did not auto-fill. While I could open the application, look up the password, copy it, and paste it into the field, that was several thumb taps and swipes away from the convenience I was looking for. For the bargain price of $12 a year, users gain the ability to auto-fill from LastPass on mobile. While that certainly made things easier, I still had to re-enter my master password at least once-a-day...which was approximately as often as I needed to log into mobile banking.

My recent mobile phone upgrade included a fingerprint scanner feature, allowing me to use my fingerprint as an authentication method instead of a numeric PIN or swipe codes to unlock my device. While I do still have to deal with the occasional “be sure your finger covers the entire scanner” error, unlocking and accessing my phone became quicker and easier. I was also pleased to discover not only could I unlock my phone using fingerprint, but I could also enable LastPass to accept my fingerprint authentication rather than the master password. Even better, however, was that most mobile banking apps allow the enabling of fingerprint access separate from my password manager. After I logged into my banking app and enabled fingerprint access, I had officially achieved the dream of one-touch secure access to information like my bank account balance, password manager, PayPal app, and other financial services.

An unexpected (but hardly surprising) consequence of my growing reliance on fingerprint authentication and password managers is I am now more impatient with manually keying in a password. I want (perhaps even expect) my computer to be as easy and quick to access as my phone and most websites, and it’s become a small, but notable irritation to momentarily return to manually entering a password.

Fingerprint scanners—like all security tools—are not infallible. Fingerprints can be copied faked, and physical changes to fingerprints may prevent access (I’ve scanned both my index fingers to be safe). In the end, I'm less concerned with these scenarios as I am with someone watching me type in my password or PIN. For me, fingerprint access provides an acceptably high level of security while also being much easier and faster than memorizing several passwords for several accounts.

...perhaps a USB fingerprint scanner is in my future?

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