Commoditizing the exploit: iPhone saga continues

The release of the iPhone July and its tie-in to one particular wireless carrier set in motion a sequence of inevitable events:

  • Interest from the security research community in finding ways to defeat the system. If the device actually provided a semi-officially supported way to unlock, this would have taken out all the fun/challenge out of it. But by tying the device to AT&T, Apple was throwing down the gauntlet– an especially attractive target given the strong emotions (generally of hatred) inspired by any telco.
  • Simultaneous discovery and release of an exploit that unlocks the phone hitting the news.
  • Much discussion over how Apple/AT&T would respond and whether the cease-and-desist letters would start flying.
  • Commercial version of the “exploit” available for sale online from iPhoneSimFree. This is one click hacking-for-the-masses.
  • True commodification arrives with a free version of the same software.

Next steps one can extrapolate from here:

  • Apple responds by “fixing” the vulnerability that allowed unlocking in software. This will likely get pushed out as a forced update to all devices. Because it is a closed network and interacts with servers in the cloud, updates can become the offers that a customer can’t refuse. Users are  denied service unless their phone is running the latest and greatest version of the software. (There is still one catch here: it is difficult to remotely verify the software run on a device on the other side unless the device itself has trusted hardware. This is the so-called remote attestation problem that Palladium/NGSCB tried to solve with TPMs. But for most purposes relying on the device to report its own version works; non-compliant devices would have to be tweaked to consistently report bogus configuration to pass this basic check.)
  • Arms race in full swing: now that the first exploit stopped working, there is fame and glory again in releasing a new one that can unlock the patched iPhone.
  • Apple responds, issuing another fix. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • And perhaps optimistically: sanity prevails and Apple realizes that this is a waste of corporate resources. Much the same way that Apple finally realized DRM is a waste of time, one can hope they will reach the conclusion that tying users to one particular carrier is an outdated business model made possible only by the archaic nature of wireless networks in the US and lack of proper competitive dynamics in the marketplace.


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