Will the iPhone be iPwned?

The dark lining to Apple's silver cloud

Yet, the hip consumer technology company has done a credible job with security.

For one, Apple turned off as many non-essential services as possible, minimising the software surface area that could be attacked by malicious code. The stripped-down version of Safari, known as MobileSafari, allows very few files types, making it harder to attack. In addition, Apple has quickly produced a patch for the vulnerability found by ISE, releasing an update for the phone on Tuesday. The patches are easily installed through iTunes, making it less likely that people will be carrying phones vulnerable to older flaws.

The iPhone's restrictions on installing non-Apple software can be seen as a security feature as well, as long as the protections make it difficult to create programs for the phone, F-Secure's Hyppönen said.

"From the attacker's point of view, it is a hard device to attack, because there is no SDK (software development kit) - it's a closed system," he said.

Moreover, while the minimalist phone has found favour, the total number of users is still small. AT&T announced earlier this month that 146,000 iPhones had registered with the wireless service in the first two days - a strong showing but short of rosy analyst estimates (registration required) that predicted numbers as high as 500,000. Apple stated in its earnings that the company had shipped 270,000 iPhones during those two days.

Because most attackers target the largest possible population of victims, the iPhone is likely not worth the effort for truly malicious attackers, Hyppönen said.

"The installed base is really low - only a few hundred thousand," he said. "If you attack other phones, such as Symbian phones, you get millions of possible targets."

Yet, if Apple's estimates for sales of the iPhone pan out, the device will only become more appealing. The company aims to sell one million phones by the end of this quarter and ship 10 million by July 2008.

Finally, some researchers question whether compromising an iPhone would gain anything of value for the attacker. While some countries in Asia use cell phones to connect to bank accounts, that is seldom heard of in the United States. And the other data on the device is not necessarily worth stealing, said David Goldsmith, president of security firm Matasano.

"I don't think the attack model of breaking into machines and stealing MP3s is convincing," he said.

Sitting near the Black Hat Security Briefings registration area on Tuesday, Miller agrees.

"There are a lot of other things to worry about right now than my iPhone being hacked," he said.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

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