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Apple introduced two new iPhones with a fingerprint sensor

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How does a machine verify the identity of a human being? Irises, heartbeats, fingertips and voices, for starters.

Authentication has been a tough nut to crack since the early days of the Web. Now comes a batch of high-tech alternatives, some straight from science fiction, as worries grow about the security risks associated with traditional user name and password systems.

Apple on Tuesday introduced two new iPhones, including for the first time a model with a fingerprint sensor that can be used instead of a passcode to open the phone and buy products. The new feature is part of a trove of authentication tools being developed for consumers, and not just for phones.

Some of these, like the fingerprint sensor, involve the immutable properties humans are encoded with, while others turn our phones into verification devices.