Could Android 4.0 facial recognition be beaten with a photo?

If you saw the movie Mission Impossible 3, you know that Tom Cruise' character Ethan Hunt at one point scales the Vatican wall in Rome and then places a photo in front of one of the wall's security cameras to fool the operator into thinking he is just seeing the normal view. Believe it or not, it sounds like the newly announced Android 4.0's facial recognition software could be fooled in exactly the same way.

According to TechSpot, a Google spokesperson claimed that the Face Unlock feature in Android 4.0 "could" be used by simply using a photo of the pre-registered owner of the smartphone. However, this claim has been refuted by Tim Bray, who works on the Android operating system at Google. Responding to a Twitter message from someone who say Face Unlock could be hacked in this manner, Bray said, "Nope. Give us some credit."

We are more than willing to give Bray and the rest of the Android 4.0 team the benefit of the doubt in terms of this new feature working the way they say it works. But we question the need for such a advanced feature in the first place... what happens if you are in a dark space and want to unlock your smartphone?

TechSpot's report said that during the big Android 4.0 press event last week, the phone of Matias Duarte, the head of Google's user experience, had issues identifying him with the Face Unlock feature. It may have been due to the poor light during the event. In any case, we will know for certain when the first Android 4.0 smartphone, the Galaxy Nexus, is released sometime in November.

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

1 TB 2.5 inch SSD announced; will likely break most wallets

Next Story

Netflix to offer streaming video to UK-Ireland in early 2012

40 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

Yea, but your friend can unlock your phone when your passed out on his couch. Shouldn't have drank too much at that party man.
Two Factor authentication FTW please...

But if Apple had included this in iOS5/4s it would be the most innovative and amazing technology ever conceived! The world would be praising it without question, any detractors would be glowered into submission.

Lame "if Apple did this then everyone and their dog would think it was magical" saying is so friggen cliche now. Come up with something original, for the love of god. Zzzzzzzzzzzz

Shadrack said,
Lame "if Apple did this then everyone and their dog would think it was magical" saying is so friggen cliche now. Come up with something original, for the love of god. Zzzzzzzzzzzz
Awww, did the truth hurt? The thing about clich├ęs are they are based upon accepted truths. Thanks for playing.

I think that facial recognition makes more sense on tablets than on smartphones. I could see it being useful for identifying the user for coffee table family oriented tablets. But we don't even have multi-user in iOS or Android yet...

Shadrack said,
I think that facial recognition makes more sense on tablets than on smartphones. I could see it being useful for identifying the user for coffee table family oriented tablets. But we don't even have multi-user in iOS or Android yet...
i think thats fairly irrelevant thats like saying no one else lives in my house so I wont lock the door

Why is everyone so worried about the phone being unlocked with a picture, are people that dumb? This is not meant for super high security, it is to give you a basic security measure should you lose your phone somewhere public. When was the last time someone found a phone and said "I know who this belongs too, let me get a picture and unlock the phone". Clearly that would never happen, so if you think about the face unlock works great! Now, for those who are afraid of thier GF's, friends, or wifes getting into the phone, then this is not for you plain and simple

Can someone please get rid of this news guy on this site? I'm sorry but you need to do a bit more research before you post FUD about Android or things they are adding or better yet actually use the phone (4.0) and see for yourself. This was talked about not only just on engadget but other sites also.

It's people like you that write trash stories that are making me dislike this site more and more and I've been coming here for years.

I can't remembered exactly where but there was a very recent post on an Android news site that specifically stated how they tried numerous photos and it didn't work. If anyone knows which site please share.

rbrucemtl said,
If I enroll my butt instead... someone would need a photo of my butt, and they are rare... I think. So problem solved !

Yeah. Unlocking your phone while in public will be so much fun then, won't it?

Sometimes, I REALLY wish people would actually RTFA properly.

Google have already stated you can't unlock with a photo (the "Give us some credit" line), and no one actually HAS an ICS device right now to verify, so this is all just conjecture and FUD, probably from the anti-Android camp.

FloatingFatMan said,
Sometimes, I REALLY wish people would actually RTFA properly.

Google have already stated you can't unlock with a photo (the "Give us some credit" line), and no one actually HAS an ICS device right now to verify, so this is all just conjecture and FUD, probably from the anti-Android camp.

Actually this was tested by people that were at the event. It's been verified this is just flat out FUD and worst of all it's coming from a writer that is Biased from the looks of it as well.

what happens if you are in a dark space and want to unlock your smartphone?

This seems obvious to me, much like the finger print reader in the Atrix.
If you can't use the biometric input it will allow you to use your preset pin to unlock.
God forbid you lose your finger/face and can't make a phone call =D

Maybe it doesn't have to be your face... someone having a photo of your face is one thing, but having a photo of your weenie is another. Of course unlocking your phone this way might be embarrassing in public areas... just saying

Considering the iffy results I get from Picasa's facial recognition, I don't have high hopes for this. Sometimes it works great, but sometimes it is an utter failure (recognizing cartoon characters in the background of pictures of a child's birthday party as people, and recognizing the head of an Easter Bunny costume as a face).

All this says to me is that when I go to sleep at one womans house, she might be able to go thru my phone while I sleep just by putting it up to my face. Hmmmm...

C-Squarez said,
All this says to me is that when I go to sleep at one womans house, she might be able to go thru my phone while I sleep just by putting it up to my face. Hmmmm...

I guess you should always wear a mask then when you're going to do that

No, wait, better yet: wear a mask when taking the first ID-photo. So, when you want to unlock your phone, just put on your mask and it unlocks!

ima gonna steal your tablet, would you mind posing for a photo for me first?

If someone is going to steal your tablet its unlikely they either know you so could get a photo (facebook etc) or would be able to get a photo of you. Seems a lot of trouble to just get a tablet.
At least its not as easy as just having a magnet in your pocket

I personally feel a phone-lock screen is only designed to prevent accidental dials (however, you can accidentally dial 911/112) and also prevent 'friends' at parties from nosing around in your phone when you go to the bathroom.
I some-one really interested in the data on your phone steals it, there are other ways to get to the data. And you should always encrypt really confidential data with some other tool if you have to have it on your phone.
And if it's a normal thief who wants to use it himself or sell it, they'll just do a factory reset instead and don't care about your data anyway. That's why you should also have a PIN on you SIM so they can't make phone calls on your costs (before you have time to block your account with you telco).

So.... long story short: it's nice to have this, even if it could be fooled by a picture. I really think of it as a fun and useful function and not really as a security measure.

what happens if you are in a dark space and want to unlock your smartphone?

And Neowin said it was going to change its style of writing news....

There will obviously be a backup method. It would be stupid to think otherwise.
And if you are doubting, a (root only) method will problably come out allowing you to use the back camera with flash.

And yes, the photo thing will ALWAYS been posible. The "more" secure method would be Iris recognition which is currently too expensive (but would give Apple "bragging rights) and can also be fooled with a picture.

Have you guys been paying any attention at all? Engadget posted a test video where the guy that controlled the demo phone showed how it worked in detail (I think his name was Anan). He showed how you have to set a "backup" method of unlocking in case of poor lighting or other issues. He even covered the camera, and a little message saying that the lighting was poor popped up. (http://www.engadget.com/2011/1...ich-face-unlock-demo-video/)

As far as being fooled by a photograph, I have a feeling they thought of something like that. I noticed in the demo video, it unlocked even when the guy had his head in a slightly different orientation from previous times and when he set it up. Google bought a company called PittPatt for this very purpose, somehow I doubt they'd spend money to do what OpenCV can do for free. (http://www.engadget.com/2011/1...unlock-is-developed-by-pit/)

And this is the news? I think, that everyone knew about that from beginning. It *is expected* for this kind of security lock. It's not like they have high quality Kinect inside the phone for 3D scan.

david13lt said,
And this is the news? I think, that everyone knew about that from beginning. It *is expected* for this kind of security lock. It's not like they have high quality Kinect inside the phone for 3D scan.

Indeed the word lock doesn't always mean security, for me its to stop my ass from pressing buttons when i put it in my pocket so it doesn't matter to me unless my ass gets a picture of me somehow

You don't need a kinect to tell the difference between a photo and 3D object, there are several other techniques and algorithms that can be used on a simple camera

It's an interesting idea, and I'm not sure how they can detect photos unless they actually do a 3D visualization of the face which is also included in the data. Nose protruding, 3D shapes of eyes, and so on. (by setting various focus points based on a "base focal length" corresponding to the average distance to the face, and then noticing which parts of the face is in focus) Would be interesting if they did, but I've heard nothing about that.

Well It has me thinking that a layer of security is still there because if you loose your phone, the person who picks it up still cant unlock it. On the other hand this is about the same as the news that came out that people can figure out your unlock pattern by looking at the smudges/wear to your touchscreen.

Bottom line: no lock scheme is 100% secure.

Northgrove said,
It's an interesting idea, and I'm not sure how they can detect photos unless they actually do a 3D visualization of the face which is also included in the data. Nose protruding, 3D shapes of eyes, and so on. (by setting various focus points based on a "base focal length" corresponding to the average distance to the face, and then noticing which parts of the face is in focus) Would be interesting if they did, but I've heard nothing about that.

With at least two shots of an object taken from an (even slightly) different perspective, you can already tell if it's 3D or 2D.

My guess:

A real face will always move around tiny bits during the recognition (e.g. your hand will keep moving slightly, or your eyes blink) in such a way that the OS has to constantly keep track of the certain key points and a relationship between them. A static photo will be, well... static, and the OS figures out that something's not quite right.

Bah. The REAL question is whether the government can see your screen unlock code with their satellites.

Jeex said,
Bah. The REAL question is whether the government can see your screen unlock code with their satellites.

The government? HA! I think the bigger threat here.... are the aliens! They could be using our facial pictures to build the perfect human face so when they come to Earth and infiltrate our defenses the perfectly conceived person would never be suspected or even more so embraced due to their perfections. Unless... thats what the aliens want us to think!

Jeex said,
Bah. The REAL question is whether the government can see your screen unlock code with their satellites.

Not when i'm inside my hou... errm, dark room!