Why The iPhone 5s, iOS 7 Are Security Theater
Just two weeks removed from the iPhone 5s announcement and three days after the device’s in store début, users are just now beginning their first full week with the iPhone 5s and its new security enhancements.
In between Apple’s announcement and Friday’s launch, users heard about iOS 7 and the iPhone 5s’s security features from security experts, to companies offering a bounty for any software crack that could bypass the device’s new lockouts. Unfortunately, those who are excited about thieves having one less reason to steal their iPhone aren’t thinking hard enough.
No one is arguing that Apple’s new Touch ID technology isn’t the future that biometric researchers have talked about four years. It allows users to use their finger as an unlock method without ever having to worry about someone compromising their device with something as simple as their pass code. Unfortunately, it’s not like Touch ID fully replaces the pass code. Users are still required to put in a pass code and if Touch ID fails to unlock the device five times in a row, iOS 7 automatically prompts a user to enter it. Should someone close to you already know your pass code, they are still able to get in.
Let’s also not forget that some users like to extend the amount of time it takes for their device to relock, should a user pick up that device before it relocks, they still have access to it, without having to fiddle with Touch ID.
The New York City Police Department has, reportedly, been passing out leaflets urging users to update their iPhone to iOS 7 as soon as possible. The hope is that the operating system’s new ability to require an Apple ID before the device can be erased will deter criminals from robbing unsuspecting iPhone users for their devices.
This would likely work in the event that thieves were stealing devices in the hopes of using them for themselves, however that’s not always the case. In fact, many thieves steal the devices so that they can resell them to unsuspecting buyers on the street, looking for a discount.
It may work out that way eventually, but I’m not expecting the criminal underworld to know the difference between a vulnerable iPhone and one running iOS 7 immediately. Especially considering that iPhones predating the iPhone 4 won’t get the operating system upgrade and are still high profile targets for resell.
The Hardware Itself
Finally, it seems that most users have forgotten the other reason the iPhone has become such a tempting target for thieves. Its resale value isn’t just high, the price each individual component can fetch is also the highest of any smartphone. Dealers looking to offer cheap iPhone screen and case replacements will still find the iPhone 5s as attractive as any iPhone has ever been. That’s to say nothing of the gold coloring on the devices rear. There is still a large market of replacement iPhone 5s parts simply waiting to be tapped. TouchID might make the device unusable, but it has no impact on the relative value of an intact iPhone 5s Retina Display.
I’m not saying that Apple isn’t working to make the iPhone 5s and future iPhones less of a target for thieves. They are, and should be applauded for taking an actual stand on an issue where other companies are perfectly comfortable passing theft deterrents off as the user’s responsibility.
What I am saying is that, giving the realities of the smartphone market, there is only so much that Apple can do. Security theater can only go so far.
Apple can’t force users to stop using the included all-white ear buds of their device, and it certainly can’t include a failsafe for every component that might be worth resale on the street. In the end, it’s up to users and local police departments themselves to stop the epidemic of iPhone thefts sweeping the country.