We fooled facial recognition on the Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 with identical twins

Facial recognition technology is becoming an increasingly-common feature in smartphones, and is even marketed as the default security setting for a number of devices.

While the idea of using Apple’s Face ID or other form of facial recognition security to unlock your smartphone might not seem strange, I would never use the feature.

This is because I have an identical twin brother whose face I always assumed would be recognised as mine upon subjection to facial recognition software.

Differences are certainly apparent between our faces, but I have always suspected the number of innate similarities would be more than sufficient to fool a facial recognition scanner – especially considering how effective we were at duping friends and high school teachers.

Following the added support for facial recognition in a number of new smartphones running Android 8.0 – including Huawei and Samsung’s latest flagship lineup – I decided to test how their facial recognition software holds up.

To do this, I tested the facial recognition features of the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20.

Twin facial recognition
Graeme McKane (left) and Jamie McKane (Right)

Our test

The test was simple, beginning with me setting up the face-unlock security method on the devices by scanning and saving my face.

I then enlisted the help of my twin, who would hold the smartphones up to his face and see if the facial recognition would incorrectly recognise his face as mine.

While we primarily tested the face unlock features of the Huawei P20 and Samsung Galaxy S9, we also tried out the Galaxy S9’s iris scanning feature.

As suspected, when my brother’s face was presented to both devices running standard face unlock, they instantly unlocked and granted him access.

The unlock speed was just as quick as it would be when my face was used to unlock the devices.

Obviously, the underlying similarities in the faces of identical twins are more than enough to fool facial recognition software – but would the Samsung Galaxy S9’s iris scanner be defeated?

Setting up and unlocking the device with the iris scanner was slightly more arduous than with facial recognition, but it had an immediately-apparent effect.

Despite multiple attempts, my brother was unable to unlock the Samsung Galaxy S9 with iris scanning enabled.

It must be noted that my twin was unable to access the Huawei P20 or Galaxy S9 via the fingerprint sensors the devices support. Naturally, the password or passcode options on both smartphones also kept my brother at bay.

Apple fans

At this point, Apple fans may argue that the iPhone X would do a better job of differentiating between the faces of identical twins.

However, the iPhone X is also easily fooled by identical twins – as shown in the video below from Mashable.

Alternative options

Unlike the Android flagships listed above, the iPhone X relies on facial recognition as its primary user-authentication method. Alternatively, owners can use a PIN or password to unlock the phone.

Thankfully, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 offer numerous security measures which can be used to unlock the devices.

PIN, passwords, patterns, fingerprint readers, and iris scanning are among the extra options to owners.

Fingerprint sensors on high-end smartphones unlock your device almost instantly, have proven to be extremely secure, and are arguably still the easiest way to unlock a device.

Our recent tests prove this, with our gelatine-based recreation of a fingerprint unable to unlock high-end smartphones.

Now read: We made fake fingerprints and hacked into a Nokia 5

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We fooled facial recognition on the Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 with identical twins