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Face It, Facial Recognition isn't Safe

3D Printed Head Unlocks Multiple Phone Models

Picture of Hanna Watkin
by Hanna Watkin
Dec 18, 2018

Thomas Brewster, a Forbes journalist, 3D printed a life size model of his own head to discover just how safe the data on our phones is when we use facial recognition. Turns out, a lot less safe than you might think.

How safe is the data on your phone? Did you know, in the USA, the police can’t force you to type in the passcode on your phone as this violates the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

However, “pleading the Fifth” can’t be used when it comes to biometrics – this rules out Touch ID or facial recognition. Police can depress your fingerprint or unlock your phone by holding it up to your face.

As well as police being able to open your phone, many worry that biometrics are much easier to hack than a passcode. To test out this theory, Forbes reporter Thomas Brewster 3D printed a model of his own head.

He headed to Backface, a creative 3D scanning, and printing company, in Birmingham, United Kingdom, to have his face 3D scanned in a “dome-like studio containing 50 cameras”.

A 3D model was created from the resulting images and edited before 3D printing began using a British gypsum powder. Brewster’s life-size head cost £300 and took just a few days to create. Finally, it was time to test out a number of phones.

Hacking Five Phones with a Life Size 3D Printed Head

Brewster tested an iPhone X, four Android devices, the LG G7 ThinQ, the Samsung S9, the Samsung Note 8 and the OnePlus 6. All four of the Android phones could be hacked with the life size 3D print although Brewster explains this was “with differing degrees of ease”.

The iPhone X, however, could not be unlocked. Neither could Microsoft’s Windows Hello facial recognition. However, Brewster points out: “Little surprise the two most valuable companies in the world offer the best security.”

In fact, Apple has claimed that it hired a Hollywood studio to create realistic masks to test its Face ID. Clearly, this method worked well.

Although most of the phone models could be unlocked, they do provide warnings to the user before setup explaining that facial recognition is not the most secure option for a phone. Brewster concludes that the best way to protect your phone is by setting up a “strong alphanumeric passcode”.

Matt Lewis, research director at cybersecurity contractor NCC Group, said: “Focus on the secret aspect, which is the PIN and the password… The reality with any biometrics is that they can be copied. Anyone with enough time, resource and objective will invest to try and spoof these biometrics.”

Do you have one of these phone models? Learn more about how it performed in Brewster’s Forbes article.

Facial Recognition

License: The text of "3D Printed Head Unlocks Multiple Phone Models" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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