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Hackers Defeat Samsung Galaxy S8 Iris Scanner

Hackers of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Germany have managed to defeat the iris recognition system on Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S8 smartphones.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 has several biometrics-based authentication systems, including face recognition, a fingerprint scanner, and an iris scanner. The iris authentication, which allows users to unlock their device and authorize payments, is advertised by Samsung as “one of the safest ways to keep your phone locked.”

While an individual’s iris is unique, researchers from CCC showed that Samsung’s iris scanner can be defeated by showing it a picture of the victim’s eye. It’s worth noting that members of the CCC were the first to bypass Apple’s fingerprint-based Touch ID system after its introduction in 2013.

Experts say there are several ways to obtain iris data, including from high-resolution pictures posted by users themselves on the Internet. Another method is to take a picture of the targeted individual’s eye using a digital camera with night-shot mode or the infrared filter disabled.

Researchers demonstrated that a camera with a 200mm lens can capture a usable picture of the iris from up to five meters (16 feet).

“In the infrared light spectrum – usually filtered in cameras – the fine, normally hard to distinguish details of the iris of dark eyes are well recognizable,” the CCC said. “Depending on the picture quality, brightness and contrast might need to be adjusted.”

Once the picture of the iris has been obtained, it can be printed out using a laser printer – the best results were, ironically, obtained on a Samsung printer. The last step is to place a contact lens on top of the print to mimic the curvature of a real eye. Placing the photo in front of the Galaxy S8’s iris scanner successfully unlocks the device, as shown in the video released by CCC:

SecurityWeek has reached out to Samsung for comment and will update this article if the company responds.

This is not the first time someone has targeted the biometrics features of the Samsung Galaxy S8. It was demonstrated a few weeks ago that the smartphone’s face recognition system can be bypassed simply by showing it a picture of the targeted user’s face.

The CCC said that if rumors turn out to be true and the next iPhone generation will have an iris scanner, they will try to defeat that one as well.

Biometrics are increasingly popular, especially in the financial industry. Banks are now allowing customers to use selfies, their voice and their fingerprints for authentication and authorization.

While biometric authentication is often advertised as highly secure, there are ways to defeat it. A BBC reporter demonstrated recently that his non-identical twin brother could access his HSBC account by fooling the bank’s voice ID authentication service.

Related Reading: Cybercriminals Developing Biometric Skimmers for ATM Attacks

Related Reading: Survey Shows Users Ready for Biometric Payments

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.