What Will Apple Do

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2007-10-24 Print this article Print

?"> Once phone users have the same freedom to install and run programs that PC users have, the floodgates of malware will open up. Apples interim, crossed-fingers approach will be to create a digital signature system like the one they just released on Leopard (so the OS X code is handy, anyway) to provide accountability, if not actual protection, against malware. Presumably such signatures will be required for loading apps on the iPhone.

Remember Microsoft created such a digital signature system for executables. They started requiring them on Vista x64 kernel mode code and encountered a lot of resistance as a consequence. Remember also that they later clarified that:
    KMCS is a not a security boundary, rather, it is only one aspect of a defense—in-depth approach to security. KMCS does not provide a means to determine the "intent" of the signed code (i.e., good or bad); indeed, signed code may contain bugs, be of poor quality or may be malicious in nature.
In other words, it doesnt stop malware in and of itself, but it helps you to recognize both malware and legitimate code. This is a fair point, but its not exactly a security policy for "the rest of us," as Apple might prefer for its own products.

Is this what the telcos are worried about? Are they protecting us from attack and complexity by rigidly defining what programs we can run on our phones? Call me cynical, but I doubt it. They just want a cut of whatever programs run on the phone.

Mossbergs hardly the first to raise these concerns. When Google offered to bid in the FTC auctions early next year they "suggested" several rules for the FTC to impose on the bidders, including allowing customers to run any app they wished. The FCC in fact agreed to some of the rules, only to have Verizon Wireless file suit in Federal Court objecting to the decision.

I have to agree with most of the calls for openness. Certainly its better than allowing an oligopolist gang to set all of the rules. I just wish the security implications were explored a little more clearly, because as sure as the suns coming up tomorrow morning, malware will bloom when the mobile platforms are opened up.

For years weve been hearing about the threat of mobile malware. For probably four or five years now, every December when security writers like me get pitched on the big security trends, vendors tell is that next year is the year of the rise of mobile malware. But so far its basically been all theory and very little implementation (and what malware there is out there is on the Symbian platform).

When the vendors are right and half the phones out there turn into mobile bots, will we regret the call for openness? Give people time. You still hear people talk about how things were better back when AT&T ran all telecom and you couldnt even own the telephone in your house. Sometimes things get more complicated as they get better. If mobile networks get more dangerous well find ways to cope, and the only sure thing is that the telecoms will find a way to make money on it.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers blog Cheap Hack More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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