A micro venture capital firm joined a group of security researchers to offer more than USD13,000 in cash along with bottles of booze, Bitcoin currency, books and other goodies to the first hacker who breaks the device in a contest promoted on the website istouchidhackedyet.com/.

Arturas Rosenbacher, founding partner of Chicago's IO Capital, which donated USD10,000 to the hacking competition, said that the effort will bring together some of the hacking community's smartest minds to help Apple identify bugs that it may have missed.

"This is to fix a problem before it becomes a problem," he said. "This will make things safer."
Meanwhile, Forbes.com reported that a 36-year-old soldier living in Spain's Canary Islands, Jose Rodriguez, has already uncovered a security vulnerability affecting iOS 7, which Apple began distributing to existing iPhone and iPad customers on Wednesday.

The publication said that it is possible to bypass the lock screen of those devices in seconds to access photos, email, Twitter and other applications. It included a video demonstration on its website and advice on how users could thwart the bypass technique: onforb.es/16IU6Y3

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller told Reuters that the company was preparing a fix that it would deliver as an update to iOS 7 when it was ready. "Apple takes user security very seriously," she said.

Among those getting ready for the hacking contest is David Kennedy, a former US Marine Corps cyber-intelligence analyst who did two tours in Iraq and now runs his own consulting firm, TrustedSec LLC.

"I am just waiting to get my hands on it to figure out how to get around it first," the founder of the DerbyCon hacking conference told the Thomson Reuters Global Markets Forum this week. "I'll be up all night trying."

Why worry?

Security experts worry about the implications of using the module to grant access to sensitive data on the phone and potentially enabling mobile purchases.

The fingerprint scanner on the top-of-the-line iPhone lets users unlock their devices or make purchases on iTunes by simply pressing their finger on the home button. It has been hailed as a major step in popularizing the use of biometrics in personal electronics.

Security engineer Charlie Miller, known in hacking circles for uncovering major bugs in the iPhone as well as circumventing security in Apple's App Store, said it could take fewer than two weeks for Kennedy or some other smart hacker to get around the new lock.

Once they're in, they could gain access to the cornucopia of data typically stored on a user's iPhone and might potentially be able to buy goods from iTunes and Apple's App store.

Miller declined to comment on the hacking contest or potential security vulnerabilities in the fingerprint reader.

To be sure, experts say they know of nothing intrinsically wrong with Apple's fingerprint reader, based on what the company has so far disclosed. Reviewers this week gushed over its ease of use and reliability.

The reader's sapphire crystal sensor is embedded in the phone's home button and reviews the fingerprint as a user touches it to verify his or her identity.

Data used for verification is encrypted and stored in a secure enclave of the phone's A7 processor chip. No information is sent to any remote servers, including Apple's iCloud system.

HD Moore, a hacking expert and chief researcher with the security software maker Rapid7, said such protections mean "the bar is a little bit higher," but that certainly won't discourage hackers from trying to break the new technology.

"This is definitely something to target and something people will want to go after," he said.