Apple seeks new sheriff to lock up iPhones

Just as a new hack,blacksn0w, promises to unlock iPhones with the latest Apple software from AT&T's wireless network, Apple is looking for a sheriff to lock the smartphones back up again, permanently.

A job posting on Apple corporate Web site seeks a security manager for the iPhone platform to lead a team focused on secure booting and installation of the operating system, cryptographic services, partitioning and hardening its internal security domains, and risk analysis of security threats.

The "liberation movement" for iPhone poses special issues for enterprises that are adopting the iPhone in unprecedented numbers, despite the fact that Apple provides virtually no security or management infrastructure for the popular device. With jailbroken phones, enterprise users could load applications that might, even unintentionally, threaten corporate data or back-end Exchange servers, for example. Unlocking the phone from AT&T's authorized network makes it hard to track, monitor and optimize wireless costs and could open the enterprise to legal problems.

It's not clear from the online job post whether this is a brand new position or Apple is seeking a replacement for an existing, or former, employee.

Hardening the iPhone OS can address a whole range of potential issues, but almost surely involves preventing both jailbreaking – freeing the iPhone from dependence on the App Store (now at 100,000 apps) and thereby allowing users to load their own software programs – and unlocking – cutting the cord to exclusive carrier AT&T and letting the iPhone run on other GSM networks.

The liberation movement comes to a peak this week with the release of Blacksn0w, a free program from ace iPhone hacker George Hotz, known as Geohot. It offers a baseband unlock of the latest iPhone OS Version, 3.1.2 and the current standard 05.11.07 cellular modem firmware.

One iPhone owner is even touting the new hacking utility as a value-added feature to attract bids for his used 16GB iPhone 3GS model on eBay

According to another hacking site, iPhone Dev Team, Hotz exploits a known crash (manipulating the AT+XEMN command) to create a heap overflow, through which Hotz was able to inject code that results in a software unlock of the iPhone's SIM on the latest versions of the OS and baseband firmware loads.

The Dev Team post notes that users with the older 04.26 baseband firmware have been able to unlock using other programs, such as ultrasn0w and purplesn0w. "Whether or not you choose to update your baseband solely to use the new unlock is a personal choice, but so far there are no advantages to doing so (and remember you can't come back to 04.26 after you've gone to 05.11)," the post cautions.

Twitter feeds show that users worldwide are making use of blacksn0w. Some are reporting a range of problems after jailbreaking and unlocking their iPhones: YouTube videos, Wi-Fi, and GPS are not working. Taimur Asad, at Redmondpie.com, offers resetting the phone's "Network Settings" and installing the "Push Fix" app from Cydia, a replacement packing and installer program along with a catalog of apps for jailbroken phones.

"I found out that installing this app also fixes all issues caused by blacksn0w related to WiFi, Youtube apps and GPS along with Push Notifications on hacktivated iPhones," Asad writes.

Hotz, on his blog, says he hasn't run into Wi-Fi issues himself, but promises to investigate them if someone figures out a way to replicate the problem.

One unlocker, #Xaliax_19 (Luis Figueroa), told the #blackn0w tweet stream that "wifi/youtube problems are due to bad hacktivation [an un-authorized phone activation], activate with an original sim.. THEN unlock, and you will not get the problems."

Other users are still struggling. Earlier today, #mephisto0666 (Ralf Jelinek), tweeted this plea: "Why can I access the internet on my #blacksn0w 'd #iphone with Data Roaming DISABLED !?!?! I have tried reset settings, doesnt work. HELP!!!"

As mentioned, one enterprising iPhone owner is selling his used but nearly new 16GB 3GS model on eBay and touting Hotz's programs as features: "This phone can be unlocked and jailbroken!" But as always, it pays to read the fine print: "We will not personally unlock or [jailbreak] the iPhone, but will give you the website upon finished auction (free website)."

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John Cox

Network World
Topics: Apple, smartphones, iPhone
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