Monday, September 9, 2013

The Security of the iPhone 5s

Hi everyone,

Yes, this blog has been all but dead for a long time.  I just started senior year a few weeks ago and I've given myself a rather heavy workload for this year.  In addition, I'm looking to do something extra-curricular—either join a choir, volunteer, or both.  So blogging hasn't exactly been on my mind lately, but I'm back now.  ;-)

But anyway.  Whether you're an Apple fanatic, a techie in general, or just somebody who enjoys their iPhone, you probably know that some pretty cool Apple stuff is around the corner.  Among this "stuff" is the new iPhone, likely to be called the 5s, and a supposedly "low-budget" iPhone, the 5C.

As a techie teenager in a high-tech society, it is with much regret that I say I have never owned a smartphone (my parents aren't quite as technologically enthusiastic as I am).  However, seeing that I'll be moving away in less than a year, my parents have decided that it's finally time for the family to update its cellular communications.  Since I'm hoping to use my first phone for a good long while, I'm inclined to splurge for the iPhone 5s, despite the notorious prices of a brand new model.  However, regardless of which one you're interested in, you should know that rumor has it that both models will be announced TOMORROW, Sept. 10.  If so, they should become available later this month.  (The new Amnesia game comes out tomorrow as well, but I digress.)

The Security of the iPhone 5s

Of course, security was the first thing on my mind when I started browsing the smartphone market.  The iPhone initially popped into my head not because I believe Apple products are invincible (most security enthusiasts don't), but because of some of the security features you see with iPhones that you don't see with, for example, Mac computers.  However, things are changing for the iPhone as well, both for better and for worse, and it looks like I'm going to have to do some thinking before I finally make my purchase.  You should as well.

1) App Store Security—Does it Really Work?

This used to be a big thing for Apple in terms of mobile security.  Apple keeps a tight grip on what apps are allowed to be published in the App Store, which at first glance looks great.  And in most cases, its stringent rules prevent malicious apps from being published.  However, recently, a group of researchers from Georgia Tech managed to sneak a very malicious program into the App store, past all of Apple's security checkpoints, and get it published, where it can be downloaded onto any iPhone or iPad.  (Full details on the story here.)

So, in short, the concept of the App Store is very attractive.  However, as the Jekyll app showed us, nothing is fool-proof, and so your best bet is to have multiple levels of defense.  That means antimalware, which sadly does not yet exist for the iPhone.  (Maybe we'll start to see a change now...?)

2) Remote Locking

A lot of smartphones have this, but it's worth mentioning.  If your phone is ever stolen, you can log into a separate, online account and lock it down.  This prevents thieves from accessing your information, altering or damaging it, or selling your phone to someone else.  The iPhone 5s will have this, which is a plus, but doesn't really help it to stand out among the sea of mobile devices that are available nowadays.

3) The iPhone 5s Fingerprint Sensor

Here's something Apple can really brag about.  First of all, it's just cool.  To some, it may even seem like something out of a sci-fi movie.  Secondly, if they could figure out how to use a fingerprint sensor to authorize online transactions (such as PayPal), it would be a huge leap forward in the payment security sphere.  For now, it's only to authorize an iPhone user's ID, but that's still pretty cool.  I personally would feel comfortable with both a password and a fingerprint sensor, but not everyone is that paranoid concerned.

4) Definitely Needs Antimalware

As someone who will also be in the market for a new laptop in the next several months, I'm very happy to say that major AV companies (such as Avast and ESET) now have products for Mac computers.  They defend against both OSX and Windows malware, which is awesome.

Of course, the surge of Mac AV was undoubtedly brought forth by some of the malicious programs and outbreaks Apple has had to deal with in the last couple of years (i.e. Mac Defender, Flashback, and a hack attack on Apple itself from earlier this year).  So one could only hope that the latest Jekyll incident would trigger some new releases.  Let's keep our fingers crossed...

Bottom line: the new iPhones are probably going to be cool, fun toys to play with, and the 5s at least will be boasting some cool new security features.  However, it is of critical importance that some safety net be created, as nothing, not even a carefully-guarded App Store, is completely safe from hackers.  Still, in the coming months it will be important to keep up-to-date on your tech news and the latest iPhone reviews.  The up and coming releases are a big deal for Apple and the mobile world in general, and it'll be interesting to see how everything plays out.

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