Face ID is a facial recognition system that replaces Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner on some devices. It uses sensors arrayed around the iPhone’s user-facing camera to scan your face. If the scan matches the data on file, perform actions like unlocking the phone or authorizing Apple Pay transaction. Now how do you know if Face ID is secure?
You’ve heard good and bad things about the facial recognition feature. You’re especially nervous about its use as a security tool. Apple claims Face ID is as safe to use as previous biometrics, but you’d like to make certain it’s reliable before activating it on your iPhone.
Fortunately, there are some very simple steps you can take to ensure no one can access your smartphone except you.
What Is Apple Face ID?
Apple likes to either make things easier. Or fix things that aren’t broken, depending on your viewpoint. That’s why the company has streamlined the process of unlocking your device. Because there’s no Home button, you can’t use Touch ID.
Instead, you unlock your phone with your face. You can use this on an iPhone X and iPad Pro or newer.
It also means that no one else can check your messages. When you receive a notification, your lock screen displays the app and the contact’s name, but not the actual message. You can only view that when your iPhone detects your face.
Furthermore, you can use Face ID to authorize purchases through Apple Pay, iTunes, and the App Store. It can also autofill passwords.
How can you set up it? It’s easy. When you first use your device, it’ll prompt you to use Face ID. However, if you previously skipped this step, you need to go to Settings >> Face ID & Passcode. You’ll then need to enter your passcode. Your face will appear in a circle, and you’ll need to follow the on-screen instruction to “Move your head slowly to complete the circle”. We will talk more about it later in this article.
What Devices Support Face ID?
Face ID is supported by the full iPhone X series: the iPhone X, iPhone XS and XS Max, and iPhone XR.
It’s a safe bet that, just like Touch ID started on the iPhone and has been added to other devices like the iPad, Face ID will eventually appear on other Apple devices such as the iPad.
What Is Face ID Used For on iPhone?
Face ID is used for many of the same things as Touch ID. Most important among these are:
- Unlocking the iPhone in place of entering a passcode.
- Supplying your Apple ID password or other passcodes.
- Authorizing Apple Pay transactions.
How Does Face ID Work?
To fully understand whether something is safe to use, you need to know how it works.
Look at the black bar at the top of your iPhone. This is traditionally where your front-facing camera is. But for Face ID to work, there are numerous sensors alongside it. These make up the “TrueDepth Camera”.
The flood illuminator covers your face with infrared (IR) light, invisible to the naked eye, then a dot projector charts 30,000 IR points across your face.
The dots create a map of your face, based on area (i.e. size, shape, and distinguishing features) and depth, which is why you need to rotate your face when activating Face ID. The IR camera collects this data and stores it in a Secure Enclave as a 2D image.
Every time you use Face ID, your iPhone’s Neural Engine processor creates a 3D model of your face. It gives it a comparison score in relation to the original face map made when you activated Face ID. If this score passes a high threshold, your phone unlocks.
This is why a 2D image of your face won’t give anyone access to your device. A 3D printer has a higher chance of working, but we doubt many criminals will put in the time and effort to create such a strong likeness.
It sounds like a lot of work for your Neural Engine to do. Fortunately, the A12 Bionic processor that it’s part of is capable of 5 trillion operations per second. So there’s minimal lag.
If you’ve substantially changed your appearance, i.e. shaved or altered your hairstyle, a passcode will be required. Your phone then updates the map stored in the Enclave.
Is My Face Scan Stored in the Cloud?
No, Face ID face scans are not stored in the cloud. All face scans are stored directly on your iPhone. They are held in the “Secure Enclave.” This is one of the iPhone’s chips that’s dedicated specifically to securing sensitive data. It is also where fingerprint information created by Touch ID is stored.
How Secure Is My Face Scan?
The way that the “Secure Enclave” works makes Face ID very secure. Your facial scan itself isn’t actually stored on your iPhone. Instead, when the facial scan is created, it’s converted to a number that represents the scan. That’s stored in your iPhone.
Even if a hacker were able to access the data in your iPhone’s Secure Enclave (which is very unlikely), all they would get is a number, not an actual scan of your face. That means they would not be able to use the data to submit your information to another facial recognition system.
Is Face ID Safe for Your Eyes?
It might trouble you to learn that your face is bathed in invisible light. But you shouldn’t worry because your iPhone only has a low output. It’s used within moderation.
IR is used because it works no matter your surroundings. The proximity and ambient light sensors determine your surroundings, which affects the flood illuminator. It means Face ID should recognize you even in complete darkness.
You’re more likely to damage your eyes by staring at a bright screen in dark surroundings. Go to Settings >> Display & Brightness and tick True Tone. Switching on Night Shift helps too, changing the colors of your screen in low lighting.
What Safeguards Does Face ID Have?
If you use Face ID, you’ll also need a passcode. It’s used in case Face ID doesn’t recognize you, or in case of emergencies when safeguards are activated.
Every time you turn your device on, Face ID is disabled. You need to enter your passcode. However, this also happens whenever you hold the Power button down at the same time as one of the volume controls. The screen gives you the option to “Slide to power off”, send an “Emergency SOS”, or “Cancel”. Face ID is disabled, no matter which you click.
Use this if you’re surrounded by people you can’t trust or are involved in a bad situation. In a robbery, for instance, doing this will mean thieves can’t access your phone without the correct passcode.
You need to activate Find My iPhone, which lets you track your device if it’s stolen. Activating Lost Mode further disables it.
Your smartphone also asks for a passcode if:
- It hasn’t been unlocked in 48 hours.
- Face ID hasn’t been used in four hours and the passcode hasn’t unlocked the device in six and a half days.
- There have been five unsuccessful attempts to unlock using Face ID.
Can Face ID unlock your phone when you’re sleeping or unconscious? By default, the feature checks that your eyes are open. You should make certain, however, by going on Settings >> Face ID & Passcode and checking Require Attention for Face ID is ticked.
Otherwise, your best option is to simply turn your phone off at night or use one of the safeguards.
Can the Police Access Your Phone Using Face ID?
You’ve surely heard about Apple’s battle with law-enforcers to keep phones secure. Police can access smartphones if they’re unlocked; if this is a concern for you, passcodes are a solid option.
But are they allowed to unlock your iPhone using Face ID? Rules are sketchy right now and depends on your country and state. In the U.S., the Fifth Amendment states that a suspect cannot “be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”. Some argue that this extends to unlocking devices. It remains a gray area.
We obviously advise compliance with the authorities. If you’re in the company of others who want to access your phone, don’t forget you can simply hold down the Power and volume controls for a few seconds.
How to Set Up and Use Face ID?
Setting up Face ID is extremely simple. In fact, you probably did it while setting up your new iPhone. Just position your face in the onscreen frame and roll your head around until the circle around the edge of the frame is filled in. Repeat as many times as the phone tells you and you’re done.
If you skipped that step during set up, you can always go back and add Face ID later. To do this, go to Settings >> Face ID & Passcode and follow the onscreen instructions.
How to Disable It?
If you need to quickly disable Face ID, press the iPhone’s side button and volume down buttons at the same time. In order to enable it again, you’ll need to re-enter your passcode.
Face ID is safe for the general public. It creates a mathematical representation of your face, stored in the Secure Enclave on your iPhone. It has numerous safeguards in place;. The most useful of these is activated by pressing down the Power and volume controls at the same time.
We can understand if you’re nervous about using it, but we love it. So you give it a go. If you faced any problem, do not hesitate to share it in the comment section.