A new patent application published today by the United States Patent & Trademark Office details a system Apple could use to automatically configure security and other settings of a device based on its location or the habits of its user (Google filed for the same patent 2 months prior but who’s counting?). The majority of the patent discusses intelligently adjusting settings by detecting a device’s location while using retinal scans, DNA, fingerprints, or other biosensors to present an appropriate level of security to the user:

Mobile devices often have security requirements, such as passwords or passcodes. Security requirements help ensure that a mobile device is in the hands of the appropriate party. Often the security level remains the same regardless of the location of the mobile device. Because some locations may be inherently more secure, such as a user’s home or office, these locations may be considered “safe” and require less stringent security. It can be desirable to have decreased security requirements when the mobile device is at a secure location. Conversely, some locations may be considered higher risk or “unsecure.” In these locations, it can be desirable to implement stronger security protections. When the mobile device is in an unsecure location (e.g., public location such as cafes or shopping centers), security requirements can be increased.

For example, imagine a device’s passcode requirements changing depending on the location of the user. When the device is detected at “Home” the device, for instance, might not require a passcode to unlock. “a passcode is not required when the mobile device detects a current location corresponding to the user’s home.” The feature could fit in nicely with Homekit, allowing devices to adjust security by talking to other Bluetooth and WiFi connected devices. One example in the patent describes determining a device’s location based on the location of other devices— like a printer or bluetooth speaker or other connected device in your house. Apple also describes the feature working when a location isn’t fixed, such as inside a moving vehicle. A device could automatically adjust settings when connected to a CarPlay system, for example.

Apple also notes that “Security measures can be based on some combination of what the user knows, what the user has, or what the user is.” For “what the user has” that could be a physical object like a key fob while “what the user is” could include “DNA, fingerprints, retinal scans, voice identification, cadence of typing, walking, talking, and other biometric identification methods.”

The term “security level” can refer to the types of security measure used (e.g., passcode, retinal scan, etc.) to control access to a mobile device. Each type of security measure used may be associated with a level of inherent security. For example, passcode-based security may be considered less secure than a retinal scan. The term “security level” can refer to the frequency with which a particular security measure is used. For example, a passcode may be required immediately or may only be required after 5 or more minutes of inactivity. The term “security level” can refer to the level of strength of a particular security measure used. For example, 4-digit numerical passcode may be associated with a lower security level than a longer alphanumeric password.

While the patent was originally filed in December 2012 before being published today, these are feature we certainly do not have yet on iOS and something that might fit in nicely with Apple’s push of HomeKit home automation products in iOS 8.

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10 Responses to “Apple patent details automatically adjusting security settings based on location, biosensors & behavior”

  1. hayesunt says:

    Cool. So my iPhone 6 could unlock without a password when I’m using it, because I have my iWatch on my wrist. If someone took it and tried to unlock it, say, more than three feet away from me, it would require TouchID or a passcode. And if they happened to get a hold of the iPhone and iWatch, perhaps it could prevent unlocking because my iWatch isn’t on my wrist, detecting my particular biometric readings. Lots of potential!


  2. tigerpork says:

    This is a really nice feature but its already exists in the jailbreak community.


  3. The iWatch will have ECG readings which are highly secure and unique. It will unlock everything connected to it when in range. For example if you walk up to any of your iOS devices they will already be unlocked, if it’s connected to third party devices like a car door or home door lock they will automatically unlock as you approach them. This makes unlocking invisible to the user which is incredible. Also the iWatch will always be locked when off your wrist, and unlocked when on your wrist, and stealing it would make it absolutely worthless as it would be locked to an individual ‘a ECG reading. I thought of this days ago.


    • I’ve always envisioned the same solution but with vein pattern recognition (technology Apple acquired/poached from AccuVein) instead of ECG. Either way, I’m very excited about this potential!


    • Using ECG readings isn’t good solution for a mobile product. Your ECG reading frequently changes with physical activity, medicine and disease. It would be a hassle if your iWatch locked every time you went for a jog. Our sprinted to catch the bus. Say you start a new medication and now you’re locked out. This security tech would never work for someone with a Defibrillating Pacemaker as it’s sole function is to constantly reset your heartbeat. Not to mention the difficulty of use for anyone with a cardiac condition. The same thing goes for Vein Pattern recognition. It’s simple human anatomy. Humans have very similar vein patterns in the body. As a Phlebotomist, I rely on this to assist in finding veins because there is such a short list of places they could be. Not to mention, Doctors often take healthy veins from one part of the body to transplant to another – this would also interfere with unlocking of devices. I don’t personally see either of these being used as methods of unlocking devices with any degree of security or convenience.


  4. this would be very useful indeed.