A Bug Lets Any Fingerprint Unlock the Galaxy S10 and Note 10, and Samsung Blames Phone Covers

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

After a British couple discovered that their Galaxy S10 could be unlocked by anyone’s fingerprints, Samsung has now provided an official statement explaining the issue and advising late model Galaxy phone owners on what to do.

In short, Samsung advises that anyone who owns a Galaxy S10/S10+/S10+ 5G, or Note 10/Note 10+ and uses a silicone phone cover or screen protector should remove that accessory, delete all existing fingerprint info, and re-register their fingerprints without the use of a silicone cover.

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Furthermore, Samsung says Galaxy S10 and Note 10 owners should refrain from using silicone covers or screen protectors until the company can push out an update, which could arrive “as early as next week.” Once the update is available and installed on affected devices, you’ll then want to scan your fingerprint again, making sure to “scan your fingerprint in its entirety.”

According to Samsung’s statement, the source of the problem is an issue with Galaxy S10/Note 10's ultrasonic fingerprint sensor that causes the phone to mistakenly recognize 3-dimensional patterns in certain silicone covers and screens protectors themselves as the user’s fingerprint.

That means anyone who uses their phone without a case or uses a plastic or glass screen protector should be in the clear. That said, some users have posted videos like the one above showing that it’s possible to unlock an S10 by placing a specific kind of gel case on top of the sensor, even on a phone with freshly registered fingerprints, essentially allowing these gel cases to act as a sort of master key.

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The unfortunate thing for Samsung is that ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensors like the one in Galaxy S10 are generally regarded as being more accurate and secure than optical in-display fingerprint sensors like the ones used in the OnePlus 7 Pro and OnePlus 7T.

At launch, some Galaxy S10 owners complained that the phone’s in-display fingerprint sensor was a bit too sensitive, which sometimes required users to tap their fingers on the phone’s screen multiple times in order to unlock the device. This later prompted Samsung to send out a patch that adjusted the sensitivity of the S10's fingerprint sensor and made unlocking the phone easier, but it may have also been the cause for this phone’s recent issue with silicone covers.

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So remember, if you’re really concerned about people hacking into your phone, maintaining physical security of your gadgets is still a crucial way to protect yourself. And if you see people walking around with suspicious-looking gel pads, you might want to keep on eye on them too.

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About the author

Sam Rutherford

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.