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IPhone unlocker... or terrorist and drug dealer?? Apple claims that iPhone unlocking aids drug dealers and terrorist and could threaten America's cell phone users. It is urging the U.S. government to make it illegal and punishable. The EFF calls these claims FUD.  (Source:
Apple says terrorists could use iPhones to attack cell phone towers

Apple has tried everything to stop iPhone unlockers.  Bricking iPhones didn't work -- it just generated more headaches and bad PR.  Apple's internal protection technology turned out to be just as weak and poorly implemented as its consumer security on the iPhone -- the hackers quickly overcame the latest protections Apple threw at them.  Now with its shiny new iPhone 3G S becoming yet the latest handset to be freed, Apple has turned to none other than the U.S. government for help.

The company has submit a report to the U.S. Copyright Office suggesting that iPhone unlocking be outlawed (and jailbreaking from the AT&T network, essentially as well as it would be impossible without unlocking) as Apple claims it threatens cell phone towers across America.  Apple claims that unlocking the iPhone provides easy access to the iPhone’s BBP — the “baseband processor” software, which enables a connection to cell phone towers.

According to Apple, the BBP could then be exploited by "a local or international hacker could potentially initiate commands (such as a denial of service attack) that could crash the tower software, rendering the tower entirely inoperable to process calls or transmit data."

States Apple, "Taking control of the BBP software would be much the equivalent of getting inside the firewall of a corporate computer — to potentially catastrophic result.  The technological protection measures were designed into the iPhone precisely to prevent these kinds of pernicious activities, and if granted, the jailbreaking exemption would open the door to them."

Currently, iPhone unlocking falls under a legal gray zone.  The comments by Apple come in response to an ongoing request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to legalize the widespread practice of unlocking.  Apple wants to push it in the other direction make unlocking and jailbreaking the phone illegal.

Fred von Lohmann, the EFF attorney in charge of the EFF request mocked Apple's filing openly, calling its claims "preposterous".  He says that there's an estimated 1 million unlocked iPhones operating in the U.S. and that they have posed no threat thus far.  He states, "As far as I know, nothing like that has ever happened.  This kind of theoretical threat is more FUD than truth."

Apple also claims that unlocking and jailbreaking also could be used to enable the alteration of the Exclusive Chip Identification number, allowing for anonymous phone calls.  States Apple, "This would be desirable to drug dealers."

Unlocking the iPhone may currently be banned under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which states that "no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title."

However, citizen requests, such as the EFF filing, must be considered for exemption every three years.  The Librarian of Congress and the Copyright Office is tasked with that responsibility.

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RE: Is the iPhone really that dangerous?
By ViRGE on 7/29/2009 4:59:20 PM , Rating: -1
Is the iPhone really that dangerous? No.

Is a completely open baseband that dangerous? Yes.

Modern cellular networks are not designed to withstand "bad actors". As it stands, in order to efficiently organize a cellular network you have to lend some trust to the clients. If you had to completely distrust the clients, such a level of security would severely curtail the performance of such networks, to the point where overall usability would be in question.

This is why the FCC is involved. Besides the fact that the system uses the extremely limited wireless spectrum, it's in (nearly) everyone's interests to have a functional cellular network, and the FCC is charged with keeping it that way.

Basebands come in to play here because as part of meeting the FCC's stringent requirements, all phones have their basebands locked down. Some phones may be "unlocked" in the sense that you can easily switch between carriers, but never at any point are you able to execute arbitrary commands. Even the G1 is locked down like this.

What Apple is poorly, but correctly arguing, is that there's a great risk in letting people execute arbitrary commands on the iPhone (or any phone's) baseband. Where this goes over the deep end is that since you first need to jailbreak an iPhone before touching the baseband, that Apple wants to block jailbreaking to keep hackers from getting anywhere near the baseband. Their examples are silly, but correct: If you could completely crack the baseband, you can falsify your phone, disrupt the network, etc.

Apple's stake becomes particularly touchy because if this were to happen, the FCC might hold them liable. Apple doesn't want to be liable for malicious hackers melting down cellular networks, for obvious reasons.

So what you get are these crazy arguments. Jailbreaking by itself is not a threat, but the risks of that vector being used to break in to the baseband gives Apple the chills. The need to keep phone basebands secure means that a line will have to be drawn somewhere. Whether that's government intervention in preventing jailbreaking or just some additional security protocols for the baseband is what remains to be seen.

By wifiwolf on 7/29/2009 5:10:39 PM , Rating: 3
They are arguing that Iphone particularly can be used for that measure more than others, so teht's a flaw in their design. If it's just iphone than they have nothing be whining about.

RE: Is the iPhone really that dangerous?
By n00bxqb on 7/29/2009 8:34:59 PM , Rating: 5
Basically, it's the typical Apple scenario of, "We have the #1 selling product in its category, billions of dollars in open funds, the self-proclaimed greatest software and hardware engineers on the planet, but we don't want to admit that we suck at securing our product, so we'll exaggerate a potential, albeit highly unlikely, outcome in hopes of covering up our lack of ability/willingness to make our product better."

Yeah, sounds like Apple.

RE: Is the iPhone really that dangerous?
By ViRGE on 7/30/2009 5:34:43 AM , Rating: 2
There's nothing really "insecure" about the iPhone. Both the primary CPU and the Baseband have rather strong security - easily as good as anyone else's. Plus you have to keep in mind that the baseband isn't even made by Apple, it's an X-Gold 608/618 made by Infineon. The X-Gold series are in a number of other phones too, and the firmware is generally the same other than some minor customizations for each OEM.

Meanwhile the jailbreak and baseband unlock for the iPhone 3GS is really, really beautiful. The iPhone Dev Team found a crazy sequence of events and made them work as an exploit. I don't believe that any other ODM could have done better in that respect.

By JediJeb on 7/30/2009 3:22:39 PM , Rating: 2
A really bad thing for Apple now is that is someone does do this and disrupt the cell network and in court says they only found out they can do it from reading about Apple saying it could be done, then wouldn't that really open Apple up to liability?

Letting your top level OS be able to interact completely with the baseband controller seems rather bad to begin with, there should be some type of firewall or something protecting the baseband. But to openly tell the public that the link is there is like a bank president putting the codes to the banks security system at the bottom of their commercials. Apples desparate attempt to control their phone could have just opened them up to some serious troubles.

By HotFoot on 7/30/2009 5:13:44 AM , Rating: 3
How is this any different from a user having customised software running on a laptop connected through a 3G network dongle? I guess running any of my own code on my own laptop will be illegal in a couple years, too.

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