21 December 2011

Cautionary tales from the Pub about using the new Facial Recognition Feature for locking your Galaxy Nexus phone

Android 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich, has introduced facial recognition as a means to protect your phone from unauthorized access. However, in a manner of a few minutes my friends and I had subverted this on my new Galaxy Nexus over a few pints.

A few friends of mine came out for Christmas and farewall pints last night in O'Donoghues pub on Baggot Street in Dublin; the farewell part referring to the fact that my partner and I are going travelling in India for 4.5 months from early January ;-)

One friend came up with the idea that if he were to take a picture of me from his Galaxy S2 and we then presented the image on the screen to my Galaxy Nexus it might unlock it... And... It did!

More worryingly though, another friend was wondering if it was possible to use my Facebook picture to do the same... And yes - it worked, phone unlocked!

So my advice to you: If you are looking for proper authentication on your new smart phone then DON'T rely on facial recognition - especially not if your Facebook, LinkedIn or Blogging page has a recent photo of you!

Another idle thought by yet another friend, which is yet to be tested: If I am asleep and someone attempts to unlock the phone using my sleepy face, will it unlock it as well...? If so, hostels (in India) and Smart Phones certainly won't mix! ;-)

Btw. another point of caution is that the new ICS phone encryption feature is/was broken. The 4.0.2 update of Android effectively rendered the phone useless (en/de-cryption key no longer accepted) until I did a factory reset, resulting in total loss of data on the phone. Details here. I have not been brave enough to turn on the feature again following on from this Google disaster - I want to wait and see if there are any further issues to be found on the Google blogosphere, given that I am going to India for a very long time and don't want to see the phone bricked.

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