Intel's Moorestown would make iPhone less secure

Putting Intel's Moorestown chips in a future version of the iPhone could make the handset less secure, a researcher warned.

Putting Intel's Moorestown chip package inside a future version of the iPhone would make the smart phone less secure, according to an independent security researcher.

"That will make the iPhone x86 and that will make a lot of attacks easier," said Dino Dai Zovi, an independent security researcher, in an interview at the Hack In The Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Due for release in 2009 or 2010, Moorestown is a chip package designed for smart phones and other handheld computers. The heart of the package is an upcoming version of Intel's Atom's processor, an inexpensive low-power x86 processor. Apple has never said it intends to use Moorestown in future products, but Intel is widely believed to be hopeful that Apple will adopt the chip package.

"The iPhone uses the Arm processor and most people are not familiar with it," Dai Zovi said, noting that x86 processors are familiar territory for malware writers and hackers looking for vulnerabilities.

"If you're doing exploits and vulnerability research, you need to know the specifics of the processor that's running," he said.

Dai Zovi is a well-recognized figure in computer security circles and is widely known for winning a 2007 hacking contest that involved hacking into a MacBook Pro laptop. The feat by Dai Zovi and partner Shane Macaulay won them the MacBook Pro as well as a US$10,000 prize, and laid to rest popular misconceptions that MacOS X was somehow immune from the type of security vulnerabilities that affect Windows-based computers.

Intel executives declined to comment on Dai Zovi's remarks, saying any discussion of a Moorestown-based iPhone is purely hypothetical. In addition, they said Intel's policy is to decline comment on other companies' products.

MacOS X is seen as generally safer than Windows, because the small market share of MacOS X means most malware writers and hackers choose to focus their efforts on Windows instead. But that could change as iPhone sales boost the number of MacOS X users.

"The iPhone is another OS X platform and whereas now the market share for OS X is definitely under 10 percent on desktops, on smart phones they recently sold more phones than RIM," Dai Zovi said, referring to the maker of the BlackBerry line of handheld devices.

The iPhone runs a slimmed-down version of MacOS X, the operating system used in Apple's desktop and laptop computers. As a result, some of the security features that are included in the desktop version of MacOS X are not included in the phone version.

"The iPhone is significantly less secure than the desktop version of OS X," Dai Zovi said.

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Sumner Lemon

IDG News Service
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