The face unlock Google introduced in Ice Cream Sandwich was one of those features that’s about a million times more cool than it is actually useful. As was discovered quite quickly following its unveiling, it’s trivial to defeat the system with a still photograph of the phone’s owner, doing little to provide real security. We’re still not convinced its a very safe way to keep determined individuals from accessing your phone, but apparently Google has been listening to user concerns and has implemented some stronger verification systems in the Jelly Bean version of the feature.
In the Jelly Bean security settings there’s now an option for the face unlock to perform a “liveness check”, which prompts the user to blink at one point during the verification process.
While that sounds like an elegant way to deter the use of still photos to get around the face lock, it’s really not going to stop anyone who’s already interested in defeating the system. The effort required to turn a still shot into an animation that can blink on command, played back through another smartphone’s screen, is minimal.
That said, it does raise the bar on effort required to subvert the lock, so we can understand its worth in discouraging casual peeks at your phone’s contents when you step away for a bit.