‘New’ Galaxy S9 facial recognition still fails on security

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Facial Recognition
Samsung’s facial recognition system isn’t very accurate
Photo: Samsung

Samsung touts the new Intelligent Scan facial recognition system in the Galaxy S9 as better than the easily fooled system used in the S8, but there’s no real-world change for owners of the new device. Samsung’s facial recognition technology remains far less secure than Apple’s Face ID.

The Galaxy S8 offered facial recognition and iris scanning, but it could be fooled with a photograph and a contact lens. The S9 brings Intelligent Scan, so potential buyers might think the new system works better.

In reality, the S9 remains hampered by a lack of cutting-edge hardware. It’s still incapable of creating a 3D map of the user’s face, since it only uses a front-facing camera. Hence, flat images can fool it.

“This is an area where Samsung is clearly behind Apple,” Global Data analyst Avi Greengart told CNet. “Apple invested an enormous amount of money, time and effort into Face ID. Even though Samsung had a version of Face ID first, they’re playing catchup.”

Rating Samsung iris scanning security

Iris scanning is more secure than facial recognition. But if the S9’s camera fails to get a good read on the user’s eyes, it switches to facial recognition. The device doesn’t require both, just one or the other.

“Intelligent Scan adapts to your needs, combining the intelligence of iris scanning and face recognition to make it even easier for you to unlock your phone in more situations,” said Samsung’s Justin Denison, senior vice president of product marketing, the company’s event at Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain.

The iPhone X, by contrast, uses Apple’s TrueDepth camera to project and analyze 30,000 infrared dots on the user’s face, generating a 3D map of the eyes, nose, lips, etc. A flat image cannot fool this. During testing, Apple hired Hollywood special effects artists to make realistic masks of people, and even those couldn’t get past Face ID.

Intelligent Scan sets a low bar for security

Apple Face ID Facial Recognition is very secure.
Apple Face ID is very secure.
Photo: Apple Apple

Samsung tacitly admits how insecure Intelligent Scan is by only enabling it to unlock the phone. The Samsung facial recognition can’t be used to make secure payments. That’s why the new Galaxy S9 still bears a fingerprint scanner on its back.

Apple promises that its Face ID system is far more secure than using fingerprints. That’s why it can be used for financial transactions.

Although it only appears in the iPhone X for now, we expect the TrueDepth camera to appear in other iPhones this year. And maybe an upcoming iPad model as well.

This means more devices will include an iPhone X-style notch to house the necessary front-facing cameras and scanners, although it might shrink in future devices.

Apparently, the controversial notch doesn’t bother many of Apple’s rivals.