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The Galaxy S9's facial recognition isn't as secure as Samsung wants you to think

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The iPhone X is still the only handset to feature a secure facial recognition that can be used to authenticate mobile payments on top of handset unlocks. That’s because no other smartphone out there comes with a 3D-scanning front-facing camera system that can actually scan the unique contours of the face. Not even the Galaxy S9.

The Galaxy S9 does come with Intelligent Scan, an unlock feature that can combine face and iris scans, but that’s still just a cool marketing name used for a feature whose only purpose is to quickly unlock the handset. But the system isn’t more secure than the Galaxy S8’s or Note 8’s.

With Intelligent Scan enabled, the phone will try to scan your face first. Then it’ll check for irises. If both fail then it’ll try to combine the two to authenticate your identity, CNET explains. On the whole, the system is supposed to be faster than before, but that doesn’t mean it’s also more secure.

Last year’s Galaxy S8’s face and iris unlock were both hacked. From the start, Samsung made sure that users knew that face unlock will not work with Samsung Pay or Secure Folder. And that has not changed for the Galaxy S9. Analysts and security experts see Samsung as playing catchup to Apple’s Face ID technology. For the time being, Samsung is focused on convenience rather than security.

So far, nobody attempted to hack the Galaxy S9 with a photo, but the hackers who did so with the Galaxy S8 suggest they could still do it, as nothing has really changed. “There is no fun in hacking just a new release of the same system,” Jan Krissler told CNET in a mail.

In a press release, Samsung insists that Intelligent Scan is faster and more secure. But it implies that it can’t be used for mobile payments as Samsung Pay isn’t even mentioned. Furthermore, in the same announcement, it mentions fingerprint unlock as the way to go to decrypt the Secure Folder.

Replicating Face ID might not even be an easy task for Samsung, considering that Face ID camera components delayed the iPhone X launch. And while supply has improved, Apple has been very aggressive in securing TrueDepth camera parts for the iPhone X. Others have claimed that Apple’s competitors are some two years behind when it comes to 3D facial recognition tech.

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