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Just a Thought - Apple Can't Get No Respect

by - August 13th, 2004

"Good grief, Charlie Brown, er, Apple!"

You can't turn a virtual page in tech-news nowadays without reading something about someone hacking, cracking, or otherwise fiddling with something made by Apple.

I talked a bit about Real Networks' futzing around with the iPod in order for its customers to play songs downloaded from places other than the iTunes Music Store (namely Real's own music store) on their iPods.

Virgin Mega complained to the French authorities that Apple wasn't playing fair with FairPlay.

HP claims that its new Linux laptop will help Linux unseat Mac OS as the number 2 OS in the world.

A report came out that claimed that the iPod and other portable storage devices posed a new and severe threat to IT security.

And now it seems that Norwegian hacker, Jon Lech Johansen -- you know, the one who cracked the DVD encryption scheme, CSS, and showed others how to do it-- has managed to hack Apple's Airport encryption. Now, using a bit of code and instructions you can download from Jon's Web site, you can get other apps to work with Airport Express, not just iTunes.

Suddenly it seems that Apple has become the technology whipping boy. What's next? Can we expect a plethora of viruses, or a squirming knot of Mac worms? Will someone figure out how to infect iPods? Are we going to have to spend a wad of cash big enough to make Bill Gates sweat just to keep our Apple equipment safe from the nefarious low-lifes who would steal our precious data and bandwidth?

Ummm, yes and no.

Mr. Johasen's hack does give Apple cause for concern, but not in the way you might think.

Apple needs to be concerned because Mr. Johansen's hack did not crack the encryption, he figured out how to get AAC files from any source, not just iTunes 4.6, and Airport Express is none the wiser. All Apple need to do is use a different keying scheme and it will pretty much block this hack, but it makes you wonder just how vulnerable other Apple products are. You can find more information about Mr. Johansen's Airport Express hack at eWeek.

Be that as it may, Apple is suddenly becoming popular in ways it most likely did not want. This trend could conceivably test its products, and the way the company responds to threats. So far, Apple is holding its own; security updates appear for OS X in a timely manner, but are not, so far, required as often as for Microsoft's OSes, and updates to other Apple software have taken security into account.

But I think Apple has room for improvement, and improve it must if it is to retain the trust of its current customers, and gain the trust of potential customers.

Big Redmond learned the lesson of trust a while back and became more open about the problems it was having, and continues to have, with security in its products. So far, The Gate Gang have weathered the storm of criticism heaped on them and the company continues to reap hefty profits.

Apple's position is far more precarious than Microsoft's; Apple is entering and expanding in so many markets, and the perception of the company's support capability will be key to those considering Apple products over other capable, albeit not nearly as cool, products for other vendors. Becoming stone-faced when someone finds a problem won't helped, and could hurt Apple's hard won reputation, and ultimately hurt how well Apple is received in those new markets.

So, as Apple products becomes more widely used, we should see more attacks on them. I won't lose any sleep, though, because at the moment at least, the Jobs Crew is doing just fine, and it is my sincere hope that they continue to do so, regardless of how often Apple products are made a target.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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