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Is Face ID safe? How it compares to Touch ID and passcodes

Face ID is one of the most convenient authentication methods used in Apple devices, but is it safe? Let’s compare it with other popular security measures and find out.

Is Face ID safe? How it compares to Touch ID and passcodes

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is Face ID?

Face ID definition

Face ID, or facial recognition authentication, is a biometric technology mobile devices use to protect against unauthorized use. Face ID works by scanning your facial features and comparing them with stored data to determine whether you’re authorized to unlock the device.

Apple popularized Face ID technology, which appeared on the iPhone X in 2017. Since then, many other devices have adopted similar biometric authentication methods. The name “Face ID” is reserved for Apple devices, but other companies, such as Google and Samsung, also use facial recognition in their products.

Is Face ID safe?

Yes, Face ID is safe. The technology uses Secure Enclave, a special subsystem built into Apple’s systems on chips (SoC) that is separate from the main processor. This system is designed to secure sensitive information, such as biometric data.

The Secure Enclave subsystem works with Apple’s TrueDepth camera system, which captures your distinct facial features and displays thousands of invisible dots on your face, creating a depth map and generating an infrared image. Machine learning technology then analyzes these images and creates a mathematical representation of your face. All this data is encrypted and secured by the Secure Enclave subsystem, which stores a decryption key.

Face ID data never leaves the device. This information is crucial because safety-concerned users may be uneasy about privacy when a company has access to and stores their sensitive biometric data.You may be legitimately concerned that information about your facial features may be stored in the iCloud or elsewhere, but the mathematical model of your face is not backed up anywhere outside your device.

Is Face ID enough?

In rare situations, Face ID may not be enough to secure your iPhone properly. One of these situations involves siblings and close family members. If you have a twin, Face ID may have difficulty distinguishing between the two of you, and they may unlock your device by looking at it. The same may apply to other relatives who look very similar to you or children under 13 because their facial features may not be fully developed.

In some cases, Face ID can also be used to unlock your device without your consent. Thieves and authorities may threaten or trick you into looking at your phone to access it. If you haven’t enabled Attention Aware features, you don’t even have to look at the device to unlock it, allowing someone to point your phone at your face and unlock it while you’re asleep or unconscious.

For the most part, Face ID is still one of the most secure authentication methods used on Apple devices. Unless you’re a politician, a whistleblower, a spy, or some other kind of targeted activist, and you don’t have powerful enemies hunting you, it’s highly unlikely that someone would go out of their way to bypass Face ID on your phone. Face ID is perfectly safe for most users and can protect your mobile devices from unauthorized access. It’s also a safe way to protect stored passkeys used for logging in to various accounts.

Is Apple Face ID safer than Touch ID?

Touch ID is another popular authentication method in which the device uses your fingerprint to verify your identity. Which one is more secure? Let’s compare the two methods.

Face IDTouch ID
Uses your facial features to unlock your device.Uses your fingerprint data to unlock your device.
Facial features can be forged by using 3D models, masks, or deep fakes.Fingerprints can be forged by using high-resolution images of fingertips or 3D molds.
Thieves can trick you into looking at your phone to unlock it.Thieves can trick or threaten you into putting your finger on the sensor and unlocking your phone
Without Attention Aware features on, someone might unlock your phone without you looking directly at it.Someone might put your finger onto the device to unlock it while you’re unconscious.
Can be tricked by your twin or someone who looks similar to you.Can’t be tricked by relatives — even twins don’t have unique fingerprints.

Generally speaking, Touch ID may be slightly more secure than Face ID, especially if you are worried about doppelgängers (such as twins and other similar-looking family members) unlocking your mobile devices. Touch ID would be more reliable in such a situation because even identical twins have unique fingerprints. But if you’re not worried about your twin accessing your phone, Face ID is a safe option for you.

Face ID vs. passcodes

Passcodes are still the most popular way to protect mobile devices against unauthorized use and were used long before Face ID and Touch ID. Do they pass the security test? Let’s find out.

PasscodesFace ID
Someone can see and remember your passcode over your shoulder, especially a short one.Using Face ID in public combats “shoulder surfers.
Someone can guess your passcode if you’re using a simple or easily researchable combination (e.g., your birthdate).It’s very difficult to fake or steal biometric data
Thieves can force you into giving up your passcode.Thieves can threaten or trick you into looking at your phone to unlock it.
You can’t provide your passcode while you’re asleep or unconscious.Without Attention Aware features, someone can use Face ID to unlock your phone while you’re asleep or unconscious.

When it comes to passcodes, their safety depends on length and complexity. For example, a 4- or 6-digit numeric code can be easy for “shoulder surfers” to repeat. Moreover, many people use easily checkable information as their passcodes, such as their or their children’s/spouse’s dates of birth. Longer and more complex codes are usually more reliable. They’re harder to remember for shoulder surfers, and you can’t provide them while unconscious.

So which method is better, Face ID or passcodes? It all comes down to personal preference. Biometric authentication is usually safer in public places where someone can sneakily see your password, but Face ID can be used against you in certain situations. However, both methods are safe in most everyday situations, especially if you use long and complex passcodes.