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Apple's iPhone and Security Considerations

Apple's iPhone and Security Considerations

by , 12:05 AM EST, December 5th, 2006

Apple has a lot to think about in the design of its rumored iPhone. In a recent Hidden Dimensions column (Apple iPhone: Design by Buddha, Inc.), I talked about the aesthetics of the phone. However, Apple also has another important technical consideration, namely the phone's data security.

In previous times, except for business professionals, few worried about the data contained in their cell phone. Getting information in and out has been so painful, many don't bother or give up trying. However, we can expect that Apple will make synchronization with Mac OS X so seamless and bulletproof that a lost cell phone, packed with gigabytes of personal data, will pose a serious security threat. That won't do for Apple customers accustomed to Mac OS X security.

I read an article last week at The Utility Belt about various methods of securing Flash memory. One might be required to use a PIN -- which is generally annoying. But there might be better methods such as a voice print, a finger print, or even the rhythm of a person's gait. What ever method Apple uses, I'm guessing that it'll involve Apple's typical genius for these kinds of user interfaces. After all, if the Apple iPhone is as cool as we think it might be, it will also be a target for thieves, and the last thing we want in their hands is several gigabytes of contacts, account numbers and family photos that could be used for identity theft.

Another factor that could affect Apple's thinking is that Japan and Europe are, according to the article I cited above, two generations ahead of the U.S. in cell phones. The article quotes an expert from Spansion, a company with expertise in cell phone security. "U.S. consumers just finished a major cycle of phone replacement primarily driven by color screens and camera functionality. Next we will see the multimedia-driven replacement cycle, followed by the wallet and key replacement cycle. People will not want to use their phone as a payment and entry device unless they trust the security of the device and their privacy."

And so if Apple wants to sell the iPhone in Japan and Europe, it'll be substantially different from a U.S. phone. However, if Apple elects to sell the phone only in the U.S., those who take the phone apart may find indicators of technologies that won't be implemented for awhile. We may see some confusing analysis.

The security of cell phones sold in the U.S. is so poor that Apple could make a name for itself by revitalizing the data security these devices. A beautiful phone is worthless if it betrays our trust.


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