Today’s smartphones and some computers have a variety of different methods that can be used to unlock them. Two of the most common are fingerprints (especially on newer and higher-end smartphones) and PINs.

But which one is most secure?

How fingerprint biometrics work

When you’re logging into your phone with a fingerprint, you might think of it as the same thing as entering a password. But it’s actually a little more complicated than that.

Each fingerprint is completely unique, and it’s hard to spoof—though it’s not impossible. There are methods that would allow someone very dedicated to duplicate a fingerprint to get into your phone, and it’s always possible you could be physically coerced into unlocking your phone with your finger. But unless you’re the protagonist of a Mission Impossible movie, it’s not that likely.

When you put your fingerprint into the scanner on your phone, the unique identifiers of all the ridges and points of your finger are sent to a chip inside the phone that’s discrete from the rest of the phone’s hardware. That chip then sends the equivalent of a long passcode to unlock the phone.

A fingerprint sensor is more or less just a longer, more unique passcode that can’t be easily duplicated.

The basics of PINs

PINs, on the other hand, are a number that you have to enter to unlock your phone or device. These have the benefit of being simple to remember, but they’re also a lot easier to hack.

A PIN is often something that’s very easily guessed. It can be a house number, a date of birth, a child’s birthday or any other combination of easy-to-remember digits. Most people don’t bother with anything more than a 4-digit PIN even though there are longer, more secure options.

A PIN can often be guessed with a little bit of information about the target, or it can even be “shoulder surfed” by someone standing behind you and watching you input it. A fingerprint can’t.

A longer PIN can be safer, but it’s also a lot harder to remember. Fingerprints are usually the most secure option available for a phone or other device because they can’t be guessed and they can’t be watched so someone can find them out.

Security is our business, and we’re here to keep you, your systems and your devices safe. Contact TeamLogic IT today to find out more about proper security practices.