Samsung to quickly patch serious security flaw allowing any fingerprint to unlock Galaxy S10

Samsung has experienced a major problem with is flagship Galaxy S10 smartphone, with a fault meaning that the device can be unlocked by any fingerprint. Rumors circulated the Internet for a few days regarding the problem, and now the Korean electronics giant has acknowledged the issue.
The Galaxy S10 has suffered an embarrassing security issue. Photo: TGSpot via Wikimedia.

Patch forthcoming

Responding to the glitch, Samsung has promised to patch the device, although there is no word on how long this will take to achieve. Samsung noted that it is “aware of the case of S10’s malfunctioning fingerprint recognition and will soon issue a software patch”.

The original issue was spotted in Britain, with some users able to unlock their devices with a thumbprint when they were stored in cheap cases. This was then demonstrated online, and the report went viral, forcing Samsung to draft a rapid response.

The Galaxy S10 has been a highly successful release for Samsung. Photo: Samsung.

Samsung had in fact invested a great deal of energy in the Galaxy S10 fingerprint authentication system, which it had described as revolutionary when the device was launched in March. Security is becoming an increasingly hot potato issue for smartphone manufacturers, with Apple having included it in FaceID in its iPhone range, and the recent Google Pixel 4 also including similar provisions via its Motion Sense system.

Air gap

While the precise reason for the problem has yet to materialize, some reports have suggested that certain screen protectors cause problems with the Galaxy S10 due to a small air gap that interferes with the scanning process.

The UK couple who originally discovered the security problem told the British newspaper The Sun that it is a real concern. The consumers in question purchased the gel screen protector for just £2.70 ($3.20) from eBay, but then discovered that it caused serious security issues with the Galaxy S10.

Lisa Neilson, who first reported the flaw, had registered her right thumbprint, only to find that her left thumbprint could also unlock the phone. Concerned about this irregularity, she then requested her husband to attempt unlocking of the device, and found that both of his thumbs were also successful.

The couple then added the screen protector to another relative’s phone, and experienced the same results. Speaking to The Sun, Lisa Neilson said: “This means that if anyone got hold of my phone they can access it and within moments could be into the financial apps and be transferring funds.”

Samsung’s Galaxy S10 features an innovative new sensor which sits under the display of the device, rather than sitting on its rear has as been customary previously. The upgraded scanner then uses ultrasound in order to detect and match the fingerprint registered to the user in question.

Since the security flaw was revealed, Samsung has issued a statement:

This issue involved ultrasonic fingerprint sensors unlocking devices after recognizing 3-dimensional patterns appearing on certain silicone screen protecting cases as users’ fingerprints.

To prevent any further issues, we advise that Galaxy Note10/10+ and S10/S10+/S10 5G users who use such covers to remove the cover, delete all previous fingerprints and newly register their fingerprints.

If you currently use front screen protective covers, to ensure optimum fingerprint scanning, please refrain from using this cover until your device has been updated with a new software patch.

A software update is planned to be released as early as next week, and once updated, please be sure to scan your fingerprint in its entirety, so that all portions of your fingerprint, including the center and corners have been fully scanned.

Samsung is currently the biggest producer and seller of smartphones. Photo: Samsung

Industry schism

The glitch could be considered a wider concern for the smartphone industry in general, with several manufacturers also choosing this new type of embedded security scanner for mobile devices. Huawei and OnePlus have also produced handsets that rely on this form of scanning.

However, the problem is arguably good news for Apple and Google, who are choosing to move away from fingerprint unlocking, instead relied on facial recognition.

[Update: Added a statement from Samsung]
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