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Ice Cream Sandwich facial recognition cracked

The ink on the Galaxy Nexus hero-phone design is barely dry, and a flaw has already been found in the flagship facial recognition feature of Google's Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' operating system: it can't tell the difference between a person and a photo.

When Google was showing off its new Samsung-built Galaxy Nexus S smartphone, one of the features it was most proud of was the facial recognition: instead of an awkward-to-type PIN or password, or a follow-the-smudges unlock pattern, users are able to peer at the front-facing camera on the device to have their smartphones recognise their fizzogs and unlock automatically.

It's a neat trick, but one that is of more use in preventing pocket dials than providing security: it appears that the feature struggles to work out whether you're a real person or a simple printout.

Tests using a Galaxy Nexus S show that once a face has been registered, the smartphone can be unlocked using another phone with a photo of the owner on it - or even a poor quality printout of an image on paper.

The flaw stems from the fact that the front-facing camera on all Android devices is a simple 2D system that takes flat images. Without a secondary lens to provide depth perception, it has no way of working out whether the image in front of it is a real person or a flat representation thereof.

It's a problem that Google could work to address - asking the user to smile, or frown, would provide interactivity that a still image couldn't reproduce, for example - but for now it seems that the security conscious will have to stick with a passcode when they get their shiny new Galaxy Nexus handsets.

Below is a video from SoyaCincau TV on YouTube demonstrating the issue, with the Galaxy Nexus in question having been trained to recognise the operator's face but falling for a picture to unlock. "While some of you think that it is a trick and I had set the Galaxy Nexus up to recognise the picture," the videographer notes, "I assure you that the device was set up to recognise my face." monitors all leading technology stories and rounds them up to help you save time hunting them down.