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iPhone and Security: Spreading the FUD.

12pm, 30th June 2007 - Geek, Rant, News, Interesting, Apple, Security, Hardware

The iPhoneStraight from news.com.com: "Gartner says that iPhone could punch a hole through corporate security." Apparently it "doesn't contain the necessary functionality to comply with basic corporate security."

What the... ?

Strangely enough, the page that text links to doesn't actually point out any lacking functionality in the iPhone. In fact, it completely ignores the text that links to it, mostly because while the interviewer is lacking a clue, the interviewee clearly has one. Neel Mehta, Team leader for Internet Security Systems at IBM says that the iPhone is more complex than any smart phone to date and hence has a greater potential for security flaws. He also points out that the development model for third party developers means that everything non-Apple is going to run within the sandbox environment of Safari. He also points out that the iPhone is going to be regularly connected to computers and the internet and that updates from Apple will be seamlessly integrated. The greatest security threat to the iPhone, according to Mehta, will be it's own popularity. I know it won't silence the critics but hopefully the drone of "Macs are only secure because Windows is a bigger target." will lose a few decibels. Unless, of course, the iPhone is bugged by as many security flaws as Windows and Internet Explorer have been, but my opinion is that it would be almost impossible to catch up to the lead Internet Explorer has.

Further on Gartner's list

Lack of support from major mobile device management suites and mobile-security suites
Those suites are designed to prop up security that has been omitted from existing smart phones. The iPhone, being based on Mac OS X will most likely support many of the same security features and management suites that Mac OS X desktop and laptop computers currently enjoy. There is simply no need for anything beyond what already exists.
Lack of support from major business mobile e-mail solution providers
By this I presume they are referring to lack of support from RIM and their existing infrastructure for Blackberry. Why would Apple want or need that in an iPhone ? The iPhone automatically connects to any open wireless network and handles email over standard (as in IEEE standard) protocols. If secure communication is required, the iPhone supports all the appropriate IEEE standards for that as well. There's no need for a dedicated, private network when you can just encrypt your communications and send them over the public internet.
An operating-system platform that is not licensed to alternative-hardware suppliers, meaning there are limited backup options
Let's split this into two parts: The OS is not licensed to alternative hardware suppliers... so what ? What's the problem with this ? There isn't another hardware manufacturer that can make iPhones and even if there were, Apple sells hardware; they don't want just anyone else to sell the same hardware just so they can stick Apple's OS on it. It would cheapen the whole experience, and I'm not talking about the money here. The second part makes even less sense; how would licensing the OS to other hardware manufacturers make available further backup options ? There are already backup options apart from syncing your contacts, appointments and emails on to a computer. All these protocols are open and Apple's iSync allows you to write plugins for backing up whatever you like. Managing backups just isn't a technical problem, it's a people problem. Making backups easy is much more likely to succeed than having a plethora of backup options.
Feature deficiencies that would increase support costs (for example, iPhone's battery is not removeable)
This is the first real complaint, but it's not a new one. People have been complaining about iPod batteries since they were first released to the public. Not being able to remove the battery has meant that many people had to send their iPods back to Apple to have them repaired and that is probably going to be less acceptable with a smart phone. Many people can barely live without their phones for the 8 hours it takes to get back home and recharge it after forgetting to charge it the night before. Smart phones would be even worse. Apple must be fairly confident that they have solved their battery issues but I predict lots of publicity for even a single failed battery in the first month.
Currently available from only one operator in the U.S.
Definitely a real complaint and one that would cause me to postpone buying one if I were in the US. I predict this will change very shortly and people who have bought an iPhone now, before other carriers come on board and the prices drop, will regret being early adopters. Maybe Apple will offer rebates or free upgrades to people who purchased an earlier, inferior product but in the past they have only done this for purchases in the month prior to the announcement/release of the new scheme. Some people will be left out in the cold.
An unproven device from a vendor that has never built an enterprise-class mobile device
Bring on the marketing-speak and weasel-words! What is the MacBook Pro ? Is that not an enterprise-class mobile device ? What is the iPod ? What is an enterprise-class mobile device ? What makes you think that a vendor that hasn't released an enterprise-class mobile device are incapable of releasing a hit on their first time ? The iPhone was labeled "unproven" because it hadn't been released at the time they wrote their article. What Gartner were implying was that Apple are an unproven company which is clearly false. Apple have been around as long as Microsoft and IBM, they have been through good times and bad, as have both Microsoft and IBM, and they have survived. Now they are gaining serious traction amongst home users who love Apple products because they look good, just work and are fun to use. We are already seeing home users transition to business users and expect their computers to continue looking good, just working and being fun to use, even when they are being used for "work".
The high price of the device, which starts at $500
$500 is expensive, however I have already stated that I expect this price to drop in the near future. This has always been Apple's strategy; to release a product that seems expensive to start with but is so insanely good that the product you left to try out Apple's product seems dull and unexciting afterwards. In the end you realise that you pay more and get more. It's up to each individual person to decide whether the extra price is worth what you get.
A clear statement by Apple that it is focused on consumer rather than enterprise
Apple have never shied away from the enterprise. Believe me that the XServe RAID is not something that you would want in your living room. The iPhone, like the iPod is primarily designed for home consumers, not business consumers and yet Apple know that most people are both. Where I work, several of the people in my department have Apple laptops, most of them have iPods and I suspect that all of them would jump at the opportunity to use an Apple desktop instead of a Windows one every day if they could. (Not that my company doesn't support Macs... it just seems that you only qualify for one if you are an "arty" type and hence a Sysadmin who uses a terminal emulator all day, every day would be much better off with PuTTY than Apple's Terminal. Hmmph !) I would be extremely surprised if my boss didn't want to trade in his Blackberry for an iPhone. The iPhone will integrate into a corporate network as an extension to user's computers and the first people to get one will be the CTO and his team probably because the CEO already bought one and they know they're going to have to support it pretty soon.
Most handheld devices come with easy-to-use tools that enable rapid interfaces to business systems. When end users install such tools, they effectively 'punch a hole' through the enterprise security perimeter--data can be moved across applications to personally owned devices, without the IT organization's knowledge or control.
This problem is not limited to iPhones. iPods, any MP3 player, USB thumb drives, laptops, mobile phones, CD burners... even floppy disks. All of them can be used to take sensitive data out of the corporation's control. If your security department don't want third-party applications installed on their computers, lock them down so it isn't possible but this alone will not stop data leaks. The only way to keep sensitive data secret is to limit access to the data. Most of your organisation should not have direct access to sensitive data. Those that do have access should have training about how to identify and handle sensitive data. Banning iPhones from your network is not going to help stop data leaks.

The article is misguided and seems to be more than just a little self-promoting. The more FUD that is spread, the more that corporations believe that they need consultants to understand it all. So it is always in the consultant's best interests to spread FUD or have FUD spread for them. This is FUD, pure and simple and it doesn't wash.

Related posts:

Internet Explorer exceeds all expectations.
Much ado about DRM
Apocalypse tomorrow
Dave's rebuttal of Macrovision's response to Steve Jobs' open letter about DRM in iTunes
Swedish security researcher exposes plaintext passwords found while sniffing Tor

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