Samsung explains iris scanning

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Samsung explains iris scanning

Demand for the new Galaxy Note7 phablet is so high that Samsung Electronics is ramping up production and going public with how it achieved the device’s most intriguing feature, an iris-scanning security function.

“Each person has more than 260 patterns to their irises, which greatly lowers the chance of a person’s iris matching somebody else’s,” said Kim Hyung-suk, a director at Samsung Electronics’ multimedia R&D group, at a well-attended press briefing on the technology at Samsung’s Taepyeongno building in Jung District, central Seoul on Tuesday.

Kim participated in the iris scanning development for Galaxy Note7 and described the five years of development and the fundamentals behind the technology.

“The technology is much safer than using fingerprints, which have about 40 patterns for recognition,” he said.

The iris, located behind the eye’s cornea and in front of the lens, has a fine texture that is determined randomly during embryonic gestation. Irises are unique and remain set from when people are more than 18 months old. Left and right irises have different patterns, and even twins do not share same irises, the company said.

When asked by a reporter if there could be counterfeiting of iris data, Kim said scanning of an iris from a dead person was not possible, nor was the copying of iris information.

Iris scanning technology, which follows voice and fingerprint recognition, has mostly been used in kiosks at airports, research centers and governmental institutes, where security is high.

The technology has been adjusted to work in mobile environments.

The Galaxy Note7 has a special camera for iris scanning and an infrared ray light-emitting diode (LED) at the top of the device. The specialized camera scans users’ irises. Infrared rays make it possible for users to scan irises in the dark.

The phone can distinguish among the eyelid, iris and pupil. The data from the scanning of both eyes is digitally encoded and saved in a Knox security folder separate from regular folders within the device. Samsung described the storage area as “the safest place.”

When scanned iris data and saved biometric data match, access is allowed.

“The whole process of iris scanning is protected by Knox and only one set of iris data can be registered per device,” Kim said. “Also, as registered iris data is saved inside the device and not on the server, there is less danger of data leakage.”

In fact, the Galaxy Note7 isn’t the first mobile device with an iris scanning function.

Fujitsu’s Arrows NX F-04G and Microsoft’s Lumia 950 XL, both of which had built-in iris scanners, were released last year with marginal success.

“What differentiates the Note7 is that the iris scanning has created a new ecosystem in mobile services such as with Samsung Pass and Samsung Pay,” Kim added. “If the iris scanning is only used to gain access to the phone, the user benefits from the technology are limited.”

Samsung Pass offers banking services through a simple iris scan rather than going through multiple steps of user verification, which are the norm for online banking in Korea. Customers of Woori Bank and KEB Hana Bank can get fast access to their accounts and even transfer money via iris verification while users of Shinhan Bank can use iris for mobile service log-ins. Partnerships with other banks such as KB Kookmin Bank are in discussion.

Samsung Pay, a mobile payment service, will also use iris scanning once talks with card companies are finished next month. Currently Samsung Pay uses fingerprint recognition for verification.

“Samsung’s technology has upgraded the security on smartphones by coupling password, fingerprint recognition and iris scanning onto safety lock functions and also expanded the use of these security measures through new programs like the Samsung Pass,” said Kevin Lee from Korea Investment & Securities.


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]

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