It’s a common belief that Apple has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect individuals’ privacy through mechanisms such as Touch ID, but what are its limits? Today Forbes reported that a U.S. attorney was able to get a warrant for the fingerprints of everyone at a particular residence for the express purpose of unlocking iPhones.
Putting aside the shocking breadth of the warrant, suppose you want to resist granting access to an iPhone. It is not that hard for someone to force your finger onto a phone. It is quite a different matter for someone to force a password out of your head. Apple has gone to some lengths to limit certain forms of attack. For instance, the Touch ID generally will not authenticate a severed finger, nor will it authenticate a fingerprint copy. Also, Apple doesn’t actually store fingerprint images, but rather hashes of the information used to collect fingerprints. Note that if the hashing method is known, then the hash itself is sensitive.
For those who care, the question is what length someone is likely to go to gain access to a phone. Were someone holding a gun to my head and demanding access to my phone, unless it meant harming my family, I’d probably give them the information they wanted. Short of that, however, I might resist, at least long enough to get to have my day in court. If that would be your approach, then you might want to skip Touch ID, lest someone simply gets rough with you to get your fingerprint. The problem is that Touch ID cannot currently be required in combination with a pass code on iPhones and iPads. Either suffices. And this goes against the a basic concept of two-factor authentication. Combine something you have, like a fingerprint, with something you know, like a pass code.
A while ago I talked about business models and how they impact security. The key thing then was that Apple had a direct path to the consumer, which drove update rates of iOS very quickly, in comparison to Android. Implicit in all of that was that consumers would find a reason to upgrade to the latest software.
Now we see a new version 6 of iOS that has what can only be described as a miserable replacement for Google Maps, as well as a number of reported problems with WiFi connectivity. All of a sudden, the tables are turned. Are the 200 new features found in iOS worth risking one’s ability to use WiFi or have accurate mapping information? Note that the question makes no reference to security. That’s because consumers don’t care about that.
So, here’s the thing to watch, and Google will be watching very closely: what is the adoption rate of iOS version 5 as compared to its predecessor? The converted have already moved over. Now it’s time for the rest of us. Will we or won’t we? I already have decided to wait for a “.0.1” version of iOS 6, as my iPhone works fine as is, and none of the new features really seem so interesting, such that I want to risk breaking WiFi or my maps. Note again, I’m not even mentioning security.
Take it as an axiom that older software is less secure. It’s not always true, but if the code wasn’t mature at the time of its release- meaning it hasn’t been fielded for years upon years- it’s certain to be true. In an article in PC Magazine, Sara Yin finds that only 0.4% of Android users have up to date software, as compared to the iPhone where 90% of users have their phones up to date.
This represents a serious threat to cybersecurity, and it should have been a lesson that was already learned. Friend and researcher Stefan Frei has already examined in great detail update rates for browsers, a primary vessel for attacks. The irony here is that the winning model he exposed was that of Google’s Chrome.
What then was the failure with Android? According to the PC Magazine article, the logic lies with who is responsible for updating software. Apple take sole responsibility for the iPhone’s software. There are a few parameters that the service provider can set, but other than that they’re hands off. Google, however, provides the software to mobile providers, and it is those mobile providers who must then update the phone. Guess which model is more secure? Having SPs in the loop makes the Internet more insecure. Google needs to reconsider their distribution model.
The scene at the Jobs house this week:
Steve (played by a 6 year old boy): Hmm.. the reception on my iPhone 4 sucks. So let’s just cover it up with a software update.
Consumers Report (played by Mommy): Steve, your iPhone 4 isn’t receiving properly. And I caught you trying to cover it up. That will be a time out.
S: But MOM! RIM isn’t receiving well, and Motorolla isn’t receiving well.
C: That may be so, Steve, but we are talking about you and not your friends.
S: But Mom!
C: Don’t but mom me. First you caused a problem for a vast number of consumers, and then you tried to cover it up. The least you can do is apologize, and try to make up for it.
S: Ok, here’s this phone condom. That will certainly make up for the waste of hundreds of dollars per consumer.
C: Steve! Go sit in the naughty chair. You may stand up and go play with the other children when you apologize and really mean it.
Interestingly, when polled unscientifically by the Wall St. Journal, parents in Steve’s community are equally divided over whether he behaved well. What kind of parents are those who accept such behavior?
Take the OfCourseImRight Poll
Before Apple released the iPhone it irked me that the pace of technology for cell phones lagged at an incredibly slow pace, the user interfaces were crap, and the deal between cell phone providers and service providers seemed to completely leave the consumer out of the value chain.
Apple changed all of that by going “over the top”, picking a winner in each market, but limiting what deal those winners would get. That was great, and really stuck it to SPs (who got rich anyway). They’re trying to do the same thing with the iPad, but in the meantime Apple has changed the accepted development model for businesses.
It used to be that you needed rich web connectivity, and that was good enough. Now you have to have an Apple app in order to reach all of those customers who love their iPhones. Good examples of this include Facebook, Airlines, and even that dinosaur who is responsible for Formula 1 promotion, Bernie Ecclestone. Yes, even F1 has an app.
Here’s the problem: many of the Apps are nothing more than shells for garbage that companies want to shovel at you, and they don’t want others using “their data”. A perfect example is American Express, who requires an app in order to view flight reservations. THERE ALREADY ARE MANY SUCH APPS. One of them is your calendar program. One thing you might want to do is download reservation information into your calendar. But American Express‘ travel web site GetThere.Com won’t let you do it. You have to download their app.
And GetThere is getting sneakier, as they no longer send many corporate travelers a full reservation in email, but instead simply send a pointer to their web page. Why are they doing this? Because they don’t want others like TripIt to capitalize on “their” (really your) information.
And so there seems to be no incentive for these bad players to be good players in an iPhone world, in spite of the fact that there are perfectly capable standards and programs and libraries to deal with much of stuff that’s being exchanged. What can be done to change that?