With the Galaxy Note 10 and S10 launches now behind us and the devices in use, attention is naturally turning to what Samsung could bring with the next generation of Galaxy smartphones. When it comes to the security side of the smartphone fence, there is one seriously surprising possibility emerging for the Galaxy S11. A possibility that, if it becomes a reality, could leave the Apple iPhone 11 A possibility that, if it becomes a reality, could leave the Apple iPhone 11 looking somewhat behind the security times. Forget choosing between entering a PIN code or scanning your fingerprint; let alone using the relatively insecure face unlock. How does two-step authentication (2FA) in a single user action when unlocking your smartphone sound?
How is Samsung moving Galaxy security forward?
A South Korean patent application filed by Samsung, “Electronic device comprising fingerprint sensor and method of operating thereof,” has now been published and could suggest the future of Galaxy smartphone security sits with combining tried and tested technologies.
The introduction of the fingerprint sensor as an in-display technology, as seen in the Galaxy S10, for example, provides the first clue to the direction that Samsung is taking user identification. Namely, front and center rather than around the back or at the bottom of the device. This opens the door to an innovative, and potentially much more secure, method of authenticating the user when unlocking the smartphone or opening an app: 2FA in a single user action. OK, I admit that sounds impossible as the whole point of 2FA is right there in the name; two factors. By adding a second factor into the security equation you exponentially improve the security of the authentication process. For example, you may enter a PIN code or password as the first factor and then a one-time access code generated by an authenticator application, or your fingerprint, as the second.
How could this work on the Galaxy S11?
What the Samsung patent looks to protect is a technology that enables the reading of user fingerprints as that user is entering a PIN code. This is one of those “why hasn’t anyone thought of this before” moments. Of course, plenty may have thought about it, but implementing it is where the problems start. Samsung admits as much in the patent application which covers several potential solutions to address the issue of matching fingerprint sensor with finger placement on the screen when entering a PIN code, a swipe pattern or even password.
One of the solutions could, according to GalaxyClub, be a method of “shuffling” or moving the numbers in your PIN over a single fingerprint sensor location. Multiple fingerprint sensors, one under each digit on a numerical keypad, could also be used. SamMobile, meanwhile, points out that a more natural method could be the use of a larger sensor that can read your fingerprint anywhere within the authentication input area. As well as providing a more natural user interface experience, this solution would also open the secure authentication doors to swipe patterns and passwords. Unfortunately, it would also require a sensor large enough to cover a good portion of the screen.
The large sensor problem
Although there have already been rumors of a larger fingerprint on display (FOD) sensor to come for the Galaxy S11, it’s unknown exactly how big the active area dimension (AAD) will be. According to a report in The Elec, Taiwanese parts supplier GIS has confirmed it has spoken with Samsung regarding supplying such FOD modules. That same report refers to US-based chipmaker Qualcomm developing the larger sensors such modules require.
The Elec predicts, with help from a source said to be close to the matter, that the Samsung Galaxy S11 will ship with a 64 square millimeter AAD. This could be big enough for some of the 2FA-in-one actions, described in the Samsung patent application. However, a 600 square millimeter AAD was shown at the Touch Taiwan 2019 event, and that could be a real game-changer.
Could be, of course, is not the same as will be.
Will the Samsung Galaxy S11 feature 2FA-in-one?
Nobody knows other than Samsung, is the only answer to the question of whether the Galaxy S11 will get this new 2FA-in-one technology. Just because there will, probably, be a much bigger fingerprint on display sensor included in the Galaxy S11 does not mean that the new PIN and fingerprint combo technology is coming to this device. As well as the issue of testing the technology, and for security aspects of a smartphone this has to be the most rigorous of processes; there’s the not so small matter of cost. The larger the FOD module, the more the handset will cost. Simple as. With smartphones already pushing the boundaries, and then some, of what the consumer will pay for a flagship device, it could be one increase too much if such a technology were to be included.
What’s more likely, I imagine, is that Samsung will wait for the price of producing the FOD modules to reduce and then implement the technology, maybe with one of the solutions mentioned earlier that do not require too extensive an AAD, before moving to production. Hopefully, the Galaxy S11 will contain a nudge towards this secure authentication technology, if not the full monty, whole-screen, two-in-one solution. Only time will tell.