iPhone

Apple's iPhone: Could it crash cell towers?

Whether a hacked iPhone can crash cell towers or not is up for debate. Still, Apple is using that premise as a defense in the legal controversy surrounding jail breaking the iPhone.

Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked the US Copyright Office to grant an exemption, permitting third party vendors to install applications on the Apple iPhone. In simple terms, allow people to jail break their iPhones. Apple obviously opposes the exemption saying it's illegal to install any applications by means other than using Apple's own App Store.

Then it got strange

Apparently, the Copyright Office asked Apple some questions and the response Apple sent back was interesting to say the least. It seems Apple is changing their tactics mid-stream, focusing on how a compromised iPhone would be detrimental to a mobile-service provider's equipment. Here's what Apple has to say about the cell tower problem:

"By hacking the Base Band Processor (BBP) software through a jail-broken phone and taking control of the BBP software, a hacker can initiate commands to the cell tower software that may skirt the carrier's rules limiting the packet size or the amount of data that can be transmitted, or avoid charges for sending data.

More pernicious forms of activity may also be enabled. For example, 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."

Wrong argument

I'm no expert, so I haven't a clue as to whether that's possible or not. My contention is that Apple is making a bad argument. I don't think someone intent on doing that sort of crime would worry too much about whether jail breaking was legal or not. Shouldn't Apple be pushing the customer agreed-upon EULA as their defense? On the surface doing so seems to makes sense, but maybe Apple knows something...

Exclusivity is under the microscope

I think I know what it is. The cell-tower argument is Apple's way of avoiding the ever-looming debate of whether exclusivity is legal or not. Actually, the discussion may have already started. ComputerWorld's Nancy Gohring points out in her blog post that the Department of Justice is already looking into anticompetitive practices:

"The DOJ may be looking broadly at ways that large telecom operators, including AT&T and Verizon, may be acting anticompetitively. Other issues include ways that operators restrict the kinds of services that can be offered on their networks."

From their attitude about jail breaking and third-party applications, we have a pretty good idea as to what Apple thinks about exclusivity.

Final thoughts

If you ask mobile phone users, I suspect almost all would say that exclusivity agreements between mobile-service providers and phone manufacturers are more on their minds than whether jail breaking is legal or not. I submit that they are one and the same.

About

Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

67 comments
The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

How do we know that the current set of iPhones are not being used in this way already. How would you know if your phone had been hacked?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Apple bricks it if you try to synch with iTunes.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

the phone becomes non operational by design. You are left with an expensive plastic brick.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I'm not sure if Apple still does the bricking. They did initially, but I've heard that they now jsut reset the phone. I suspect most that jail break phones aren't synching them.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... it's a rotten philosophy, which always leads to no good. Ford employed it about a decade back. Engine wouldn't start if doors weren't closed, seat belts fastened, etc. Result: A friend of mine, happy owner of newest computer enhanced Ford car spent a couple of hours stranded on a highway, in dead of winter, with dead engine, waiting for servicemen to replace faulty door sensor.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

I get hacked due to a fault with the iPhone OS (not my fault) and the reward is bricking my phone when I try to use a legitimate service. Begs belief..

jkameleon
jkameleon

* Criminals don't care whether jailbreaking iphones is legal or not. They are criminals, after all. * In this particular case, it would be far more practical to break into cell tower software using a device other than iphone. The first thing that comes to my mind is a cellphone electronics connected directly to PC. * Generally, once a device is in somebody else's hands, it's not trustworthy anymore, period. Well, maybe... maybe tamper proofed credit cards chips could be an exception, but in the final consequence that's all just a question of price. The whole issue is just another manifestation of Apple's policy of holding its customers on leash. One reason more why I wouldn't touch Apple & its products even with a borrowed ten foot pole.

Gudufl
Gudufl

You are all tentatively touching on valid points, but very little is actually said to help Michael with his fruitless search (as he points out repeatedly), for info that can substantiate or repudiate Apple's claim. Unfortunately I can't help with that either. Never the less the associated issues raised (exclusivity and anti-competitiveness) are more than valid. Take note that the iPhone is sold on its own and under contract, "GLOBALY", and regulations for the US do not apply everywhere. In South Africa I can buy an iPhone and chose the provider or I can go to a provider and buy the phone under contract, which is a form of subsidy as one ends up paying a little less for the phone by the time the contract has run its course, then if one had bought it outright. Thus Palmetto makes a very valid point with: "I want a phone at the subsidized price but I don't want the carrier that's subsidizing it". Which oppinion, is also expressed by CG IT. In SA we do not have an issue with exclusivity! On the other hand if in some contries, as it appears to be the case (US, UK), only one provider offers the phone the exclusivity issue becomes pertinent and is BAD NEWS! Contrary to frylock's oppinion that is what the regulator, come gov. is paid to investigate and probably dose not need to spay regulations around as they are already in place but not enforced. On a lighter note, dose Oz not want to tell us what device he uses?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I'm just learning that most of the world is unlocked. Wow. Apple would triple its sales in the US if that was the case. At least that is my thinking. My next assumption has to be that telcos are then controlling whether phones are locked or not.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

U.S. consumers are apparently willing to accept very restrictive contractual conditions in order to get their phones at low initial purchase prices. Of course, they're paying for the phone over the cost of the contract, and they're complain about the contract details, but since they don't pay much for the hardware up front, they don't care enough to demand a different marketing model. I don't understand the anti-competitive claims some have made about this. There's plenty of competition; you just can't mix and match between hardware and carrier.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

We had a choice. Telcos in the US seemed to always have an iron fist over the consumer.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you don't like the carrier, don't buy the phone. Maybe it's me and my non-ownership status, but I still perceive the primary purpose of these devices to be voice communications. If it's a great piece of hardware and software but it can't make a phone call (poor microphone or speaker quality, lack of carrier coverage in the areas you need it), I would consider it a poor choice. If the primary purpose of the device has shifted to where voice comm is no longer the primary function, then isn't the carrier is less relevant?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I should have defined exclusivity. I'm starting to see a branch. I think it's actually the difference between jail broken and unlocked. Funny, I'm not sure if a jail-broken iPhone is unlocked or not? The EFF contention is not with ATT it's the not being able to install TPV applications.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Seems to have a rather convoluted approach as to what's acceptable in their App Store.

CG IT
CG IT

if your product isn't made available for purchase in a market of potentially hundreds of millions of users, then think of the $$ you lose. At $3.00 for the app, that's a lot of $$. Now if your Apple and your creating your own apps for your own phone, are you going to want allow a competitor to install their apps on your phone? thus miss out on the $$? Of course not. But the competitor just might have government backing thus force you through regulations to allow that competitor to sell their app to your customers.

beldar33
beldar33

So what I may not understand here is...their arguments logic...if apple is so adamant that no one "jailbreaks" the iphone...then re-program it! It is not governments job to protect a companies market share. I would tell apple that if they do not want people to muck with their products, then build them in such a way as to not be possible. If apple cannot do that, then that's their own fault. I can do whatever I want to any inatimate object I have purchased as long as I don't use it for the harm of others. Jailbreaking an iphone so I can switch carriers or install my own choice of software is WELL within my rights as the OWNER of said inatimate object since I paid my money to OWN the object!!!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Wow. Kudos to you. Beldar, what you suggest is what I'm sure Apple would like to do. Still, I've been in this game for almost 50 years now and I have yet to see a product that was capable of surviving geekdom. No way no how. So both you and I agree that exclusivity is wrong.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Our combined local and long distance bills for our land line averaged $30 a month before we combined them with our DSL last year. We've never been big phone users, and there's no cellular contract that wouldn't cost us twice as much. Neither of us feels the need to be in constant voice contact with our family or friends. I get a call from work at home about once every two years. Whenever my boss proposes sticking me with a cellular leash, I point out that statistic and ask if the company really thinks it's worth the cost.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I guess it's the communicator in me. I've been an amateur radio operator most of my life. So, I've always had something portable I could talk, type, or key to communicate. I suspect that's why I like mobiles.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

since I've never owned one, but I'm betting all you own is the physical components of the phone, the hardware itself. Read the fine print and I'll bet you don't own the operating system or other software, you only run it under a license.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Funny how Apples notes in one tiny sentence [i]"or avoid charges for sending data"[/i] and yet it is the backbone supporting their service, DATA COSTS. HEaven forid, but I know their real concern is the tower and not the free data use. I think that says it all, I know plenty of people with i-Phones that have been Jail Broken, I've done a few for friends also, though I wouldn't ever consider using an i-Phone myself, far too limited functionality. So far nobody seems to have taken out any towers, the world hasn't, ended, computers still work and the end doesn't appear to be THAT near, we all know it ends in 2012 anyway by a solar flare...no, make that a tiny brown planet...no, make that the Mayan calendar says so....oh, screw it, we are all going to turn into skelingtons! Do I care what Apple thinks, says or does to get other people to waste money? Not at all, there's a sucker born every minute and Apple seems to attract them like flies to....well, a sucker. ;)

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

What phone do you use? Sorry, just really curious from your comment about the iPhone being too limited.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

I modified my IP stack config on my home PC to get the best performance from my internet connection. Nothing wrong with that. But to suggest by doing so it would cause a problem with the ISP's network would be totally incorrect. So how come it can cause such an issue when applied to an iPhone? ?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Described by Apple was very vague. I'm trying to research the process in more depth, but not having much luck finding information. I mentioned earlier, I'm pretty sure that 's by design though.

santeewelding
santeewelding

When you strut out on the limb of here-now in contrast with the tree of all time? Invigorating, at least. edit to appease the style God

CG IT
CG IT

Most of the GSM system uses stream cyphers and encryption with a preshared key and SIM. What gets me is this whinny entitlement thinking users seem to now have. I want the IPhone but I don't want AT&T. It's anti-competitive. I don't get the anit-competitive angle. You want the IPhone you get AT&T. If you don't like AT&T well then buy a different phone. Users don't have to have an IPhone. There are other phones that have similar capabilities. They may not have the same cool factor but for whinny kids, maybe cool factor ought to be a case for anti-competitive business. The IPhone is locked because the price is subsidized by subscription revenue and apps revenue. Think forward to Cloud Computing and you'll see how providers will make it affordable.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"What gets me is this whinny entitlement thinking users seem to now have. I want the IPhone but I don't want AT&T." I understand the marketing tactic of locking a phone to an exclusive provider to be unique to North America. Everywhere else there is no contractual tie between model and provider. But this freedom comes at a cost: the price of the phone is not subsidized by the carrier. To paraphrase your interpretation of the users' whines: "I want a phone AT THE SUBSIDIZED PRICE but I don't want the carrier that's subsidizing it." Now that's whiny. As to crashing towers, I can't believe there isn't some sort of password or authentication system that prevents unauthorized users from passing commands to a tower. With all the bandwidth available now that we've ditched analog TV, why does the system to control the tower run on the same frequencies as the phones? Why does the tower accept commands from any device instead of having a list of authorized transmission IDs, so it ignores programming traffic from any device not on the list? Move the 'command and control' to a different set of frequencies licensed only to tower owners, manufacture phones so they're incapable of accessing these frequencies, put an encrypted security mechanism in place, and 'whitelist' the devices authorized to make changes. Geez, I don't even work with cell towers and I thought this up faster than I could type it. I hereby authorize Apple and AT&T to implement these solutions, along with every other manufacturer and carrier that can't get their heads out of their @$$es. Unless all this is bogus and they're more concerned with application sales profits than they are with security, but we know that's not the case, don't we? If a 'jail broken' phone can be a threat then there's something wrong with the system, not the phones or the users.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I'm almost sure that the back haul from towers are a different frequency. I have been trying to find more detailed information about the actual attack vector, but hot being very successful. I'm sure that's by design though.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I remember when the iPhone first came out and it DDoS'd Wi-Fi networks at some colleges.

melias
melias

If Apple had just written the cell-tower version of "The Anarchists Cookbook" and the other book written years ago detailing how to be a successful hitman?

jay.sanders
jay.sanders

To stay on topic - its possible. But as someone already said - I doubt those who want to crash a tower are concerned about the legality of the software they use to do it. Most people who jailbreak a phone are after more capabilities not less - crashing the tower would mean you cant make phone calls either wouldnt it? Right back up the top CG IT said... There are other phones that have similar capabilities I would strongly disagree with this. Personally - I hate iTunes. I can't stand the fact Apple wants to restrict what I can and cant access on a phone I paid good money for and I really dont understand why on a device with BlueTooth, WiFi AND 3G broadband I have to sit in front of a computer with my cable to put music onto it. The phone itself has pretty crap reception. The OS crashes more often than my windows PC and its got quite a few retarded "features". Having said all that though - there is no way I would change devices because there is nothing on the market that even comes close. As a mobile phone its average at best. As a portable UNIX workstation its unsurpassed. People should be able to use what they buy how they want. If I buy a $6,000 computer and use it as a door stop - that should be my business and my business only. If they arent selling the phone, and they arent selling the software and they arent selling the infrastructure - then what was it exactally that I paid for when I purchased the phone? Cause shouldnt what I buy then be mine to use as I wish? Many great inventions came from taking an already existing product and changing it to make it better...

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Do you have any research showing how any phone can crash cell towers as Apple has proposed? I'd love to hear about it.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

You to feel that way.

CG IT
CG IT

I have AT&T and well I don't have an IPhone. I really don't have any problems with my service. I also have, at last count, upwards of 30 different types of phones I can buy from 5 or 6 different phone mfg including Apple's IPhone that will work with the phone service plan I have. I don't see how that's anit-competitive. If I want, I can switch providers and get a new phone. I've got around 6 old phones waiting laying around for the electronics collection that were from various phone service providers. While some believe they don't have choices, they really do. It might not be what they want but then that old visual of the little kid balling his head off because he can't get what he wants comes to mind.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Will probably eliminate the need for multiple phones.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Few people are 'required' to carry a personal phone; even fewer to carry one in addition to the company-provided one. The personal one is a choice, not a requirement, as is the desire to use a particular personal model that differs from the company phone.

jasonemmg
jasonemmg

If the company hands out SIM cards that require an employee to carry 2 phones (personal and business) then he or she will have to do so if they want to keep their job?? I know a few people that have 2 phones. They don't seem to mind, its not as if they are paying both monthly cell phone bills.

Shepps
Shepps

I was in the O2 shop, half admiring the iPhone (gotta love that new compass feature that is built in to Google Maps so that the map rotates as you turn!) ... and it appears that O2 themselves have a locked and unlocked version of the phone. When I say unlocked I don't mean that it is properly unlocked, rather it allows you to swap to other O2 tarifs. I am not sure how easy it is to get an iPhone unlocked through other means, but it sure is tempting! Either that or next time I am in Germany I will buy a truly unlocked iPhone and switch the language to english. The thing that really annoys me is the difference in price for upgrades in memory. Currently an iPhone with 8GB retails at about 340 pounds, 16GB is 440 and 32GB is 550-ish (don't quote me on exact prices), so that is about 100 pounds for doubling the storage. Now I had a look at SD Micro prices (my kid plays Nintendo DS and I just discovered the delights of R4!) and found that the difference in storage prices was about a pound per GB, so I think O2 is seriously cashing in on the prices attached to storage where the technology seems to be way lower in price. Unless of course I missed out why it really has to be so much more expensive!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I've read quite a bit about that and haven't seen any real logic as to why Apple would do that.

CG IT
CG IT

Business section. a report by David Sarno: The FCC wants to know why Apple refused to allow Google to distribute its voice application at its app store. That effectively shuts out IPhone users from the much anticipated Internet Phone Service. Sounds like the Microsoft anittrust over browsers all over again.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Then I started using screen protectors and smearing is no longer an issue.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Until you mentioned that I didn't realize there was that huge market for unlocked iPhones. They must have to avoid iTunes and the App Store. Interesting. What you are looking for is the next device out from Apple. I'm also excited about it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I can't stand seeing my greasy fingerprints all over the display. Just me, I guess.

CG IT
CG IT

not blurring. You can get a laptop or netbook with mobile broadband via the telcom system. Pretty soon, whether we like it or not, that netbook or laptop is going to have the O/S as firmware on a ROM/PROM chips and flash memory and apps provided by the cloud provider. Access via your telcom provider. The added benefit is being able to make a phone calls. At some point, probably with video. Where do I stand on all this? Divided. I don't think that people who want an unlocked IPhone should have it without paying for it. You can get an unlocked IPhone by purchasing it. Big price difference though. That's the big rub. People want an IPhone and the ability to choose what phone provider they have all at the subsidized price. Side Note: You know what I want? A tablet that is touch screen and stylus. If I want to scribble notes on a page [One Note], I use the stylus. If I've simply surfing, touch the screen. If I want to make a phone call, just touch the screen and it makes the call. All for around $800.00 USD and $39.99 per month unlimited calling.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

It all about exclusivity with the applications. That could be considered a different bailiwick.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

All the time as well. I hated carrying two phones all the time. Could you keep me up-to date with what's happening with regards to the providers. I didn't realize there was a difference between the UK and Europe. Thanks for sharing that.

frylock
frylock

I don't know, buy a different computer perhaps? Sheesh, really. Why is it when people can't get exactly what they want they expect the govt to step in and start spraying regulations around. Want an iPhone? You get AT&T. Don't want AT&T? Get a different phone. Not happy with either of those choices? Get over it. I promise you can survive with AT&T or without an iPhone.

Shepps
Shepps

The anti-competitive thing is interesting. In Europe we can't make up our minds. The UK thinks it's OK to lock the iPhone to an ISP (O2 in this case). However Germany and some other countries don't seem to think it is a fair tactic and have forced Apple to open their iPhones to all providers. Personally I prefer having it unlocked. I have seen cases where people have joined our company, which is handing out employees vodafone sim cards which they cannot use in the iPhone. Now you might say it's fair play to make employees have to put up with having a private phone and a company one on them at all times but personally I don't.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Between phone and computer blurring? Would you feel differently if the computer you bought was locked down like the phone? The EFF just want to be able to add TPV applications.