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Operators say 'told you so' on iPhone security

Handset security report hits the streets

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Operator talking-shop the OMTP (Open Mobile Terminal Alliance) has published its white paper on handset security, saying something along the lines of Symbian Signed is a good idea, and that if Apple had listened to it the iPhone would never have been cracked.

The document (pdf) spends a lot of time explaining what mobile security is, and goes on to promote the OMTP ASF (Application Security Framework) which would solve all these problems, including the cracks in the iPhone.

The iPhone was first cracked though an exposed debug port on the circuit board, and it's true that the OMTP Trusted Environment (recommended in the new white paper) states that: "Any unauthorised access to debug port features SHALL be prevented by the [System On Chip]." But it's a hell of a lot easier to say than to do, and Apple can be forgiven for leaving a pin accessible.

Harder to forgive is the complete lack of layering in the iPhone security model - all applications run as root, with full system access, something that hasn't been an issue on Macs for years, and was even fixed by Microsoft in Windows Vista.

The white paper makes a good argument for layering security, with applications only being able to access the resources they need. This is something Symbian features, but which Apple is going to have a hard time adding to the iPhone when it launches the SDK next year.

Steve Jobs has claimed the iPhone will be protected by a new security model offering lots of access for developers, but with lots of security too - a combination that is also much easier to talk about than implement.

With the iPhone architecture so fatally flawed it's hard to see how such a security model can be implemented by next year, but Apple could do a lot worse than read up on what the OMTP recommends. ®

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