Although rumored and expected to be one of the first, Samsung came terribly late to the in-display fingerprint scanner party. Perhaps in an attempt to make the delay worthwhile, Samsung also opted to adopt a kind of biometric technology that none of its rivals had: Qualcomm’s in-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. While presented as a feature bullet point, that has become a security liability for this year’s Samsung flagships and it may force the world’s largest smartphone maker to abandon ship quickly.
It’s not that Qualcomm’s ultrasonic tech is that new either. It was first revealed back in 2015 but had no large-scale takers and, therefore, no real-world tests. It was heavily advertised as a more accurate and more reliable alternative to the traditional optical fingerprint scanners since it wasn’t dependent on visible light.
In practice, however, that was the exact opposite, at least in their implementation inside the Galaxy S10 and the Galaxy Note 10. Reports of how the fingerprint scanner could practically authenticate anyone simply by using a screen protector flooded the net, forcing Samsung to quickly put out a fix to address the issue and almost comically discourage the use of third-party screen protectors.
Unfortunately, the damage has been done, more to Samsung than Qualcomm directly. Financial and security institutions have practically blacklisted or blocked these two phones or their fingerprint security features because of their inherent security risk. This, in turn, would inconvenience users by forcing them to fall back on PINs or passwords.
According to an analyst, Samsung may very well be forced to ditch Qualcomm’s tech for a regular optical in-display sensor. Coincidentally, this could also boost Korea’s economy if Samsung opts to use local components instead of importing the US-made technology. Not that optical in-display fingerprint scanners are all created equal anyway and some offer less than impressive performance over others.