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Research Reveals Apple’s Efforts to Safeguard User Biometrics in the Touch Bar

Posted on January 3, 2017

Today, individuals generate a staggering amount of personal data on an annual basis. It’s not just your files and documents, though — it’s everything you leave behind in your digital wake. That includes things such as browsing history, purchasing habits, tracking cookies, and even passwords. Managing the security of that data and protecting it isn’t always easy. As we begin to use physical data about our bodies, like fingerprints, to interact with our devices, that security becomes even more important. With Apple’s introduction of the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pros, some have wondered about its security features. A new teardown reveals more evidence of Apple’s strong belief in safeguarding user data.

Before we dissect the details of what makes the Touch Bar so secure, let’s consider why it’s important for Apple to safeguard this data. Think about this: while you can change a password, you can’t change your fingerprints. The digital signature created by scanning your fingerprint is one of the most identifiable pieces of information you could ever create. It’s why Apple believes touch is the future of electronic payments, and why the Touch Bar integrates with Apple Pay. It’s about more than just rapidly unlocking your laptop after stepping away — it’s meant to be a guarantee that you, and only you, are making an authorized payment.

To that end, Apple has gone to great lengths to make the Touch Bar a robust vault. The entire system runs on its own dedicated hardware, which appears to be a minimalist version of the Apple Watch architecture. When you first set up your fingerprint, Apple digitizes it and then stores the information in what is known as the Secure Enclave, where it can never be retrieved in its original form. At all times after that, it works like hashing a password; you touch the bar and the system checks to see if it matches what it knows. At all points in the process, your biometric data is stored safely under lock and key inside the dedicated Touch Bar hardware

As we begin to see biometrics infiltrate more areas of our lives, this level of security is the least we should expect. The greater demands placed on privacy measures matches the convenience that unlocking services with our fingerprints bring. Nonetheless, a look at the hardware and software in play easily reveals that Apple takes its role as steward of your data quite seriously.

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