The clash with Cupertino was reportedly sparked by an investigation this summer — “involving guns and drugs” — in which a court order was obtained, demanding that Apple provide real time iMessages exchanged by iPhone-using suspects. Due to the stringent security measures featured on iOS 8, Apple responded that it could not comply due to the advanced encryption used by the company.
Thankfully, the decision was taken not to pursue legal action. However, the case once again demonstrates the opposition that exists within government to Apple’s stance on user privacy.
In a previous open letter, F.B.I. director James Comey argued that the top-notch security on devices like the iPhone have potential to aid terrorist groups like ISIS.
Tim Cook, meanwhile, has argued that Apple is taking a moral stance by not mining user data.
It was a bizarre trip hosted by an equally bizarre and secretive entity called TaiG (pronounced “tie-gee”), which flew the hackers to China to share techniques and tricks to slice through the defences of Apple’s mobile operating system in front of an eager conference-hall crowd. Why such interest and why such aggrandisement of iOS researchers? In the last two years, jailbreaking an iPhone – the act of removing iOS’ restrictions against installing unauthorized apps, app stores and other features by exploiting Apple security – has become serious business in China. From Alibaba to Baidu, China’s biggest companies are supporting and even funding the practice, unfazed at the prospect of peeving Apple, which has sought to stamp out jailbreaking ever since it became a craze in the late 2000s.
Any hacker who can provide the full code for an untethered jailbreak, where the hack continues to work after the phone reboots, can expect a big pay check for their efforts. “Many experts agree the price for an untethered jailbreak is around $1 million,” says Nikias Bassen, aka Pimskeks, a lanky 33-year-old iOS hacker who is part of the evad3rshacker collective. More often, sellers of iOS zero-day vulnerabilities – the previously-unknown and unpatched flaws required for jailbreaks – make thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars from Chinese firms, private buyers or governments, in particular three-letter agencies from the US.
Such big sums are on offer due to the explosion of the third-party app store industry in China. There are at least 362 million monthly active mobile app users in China, according to data provided by iResearch. Whilst smartphone owners in Western nations are content within the walled gardens of Apple and Google app stores for their games, media and work tools, the Chinese are fanatical about apps and want the broadest possible choice from non-Apple app stores. Jailbreaks, which do away with Apple’s chains and allow other markets on the device, are thus vital to meeting that demand.
I had no idea jailbreaking was such big money in China, however somehow I am not surprised at all by this development.
RIM’s chiefs didn’t give much additional thought to Apple’s iPhone for months. “It wasn’t a threat to RIM’s core business,” says Mr. Lazaridis’s top lieutenant, Larry Conlee. “It wasn’t secure. It had rapid battery drain and a lousy [digital] keyboard.”
If the iPhone gained traction, RIM’s senior executives believed, it would be with consumers who cared more about YouTube and other Internet escapes than efficiency and security. RIM’s core business customers valued BlackBerry’s secure and efficient communication systems. Offering mobile access to broader Internet content, says Mr. Conlee, “was not a space where we parked our business.”
The iPhone’s popularity with consumers was illogical to rivals such as RIM, Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc. The phone’s battery lasted less than eight hours, it operated on an older, slower second-generation network, and, as Mr. Lazaridis predicted, music, video and other downloads strained AT&T’s network. RIM now faced an adversary it didn’t understand.
“By all rights the product should have failed, but it did not,” said David Yach, RIM’s chief technology officer. To Mr. Yach and other senior RIM executives, Apple changed the competitive landscape by shifting the raison d’être of smartphones from something that was functional to a product that was beautiful.
“I learned that beauty matters….RIM was caught incredulous that people wanted to buy this thing,” Mr. Yach says.
I love reading these types of stories, especially when they present the utter confusion of top executives who think their market positions are incapable of changing in an instant. The iPhone took the wind out of RIM’s sails, and the company has yet to make any movement since. It is likely this way because BlackBerry misunderstands what makes the iPhone so compelling.