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Police “decrypts” your phone

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CNET has an interesting article about how warrants to access suspects mobile phones are handled by two of the big mobile OS providers; Apple and Google. Focusing on Apple, the article mentions cases where the police has to wait for Apple to perform the unlocking, while Google “resets the password and further provides the reset password to law enforcement”.

From a technical perspective, it is not clear what kind of unlocking is performed; whether it is the SIM code, screen lock, or account password. It is interesting that the article mentions decryption, but it is probably a misunderstanding, or wrong wording: Android phones do not use encrypted storage by default, and in fact, if you have a model with a removable memory card, you can read that in any SD card reader. Accessing the embedded phone storage is also easy if it already unlocked (using fastboot / adb). iPhones does not use encrypted storage by default either, to be best of my knowledge. The article does indeed state that “It’s not clear whether that means Apple has created a backdoor for police [...] , or whether it simply is more skilled at using the same procedures available to the government.”.

From a privacy and security point of view, it is clear that it is irrelevant what the default security setting is. It can simply not be trusted to perform the task a user would expect. Rather, one should use take matters into own hands, and use software that has been proven to not contain backdoors for police or others. The only option is free and open source software, which has been vetted by security experts and the community.

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Nothing lasts forever

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“Nothing lasts forever”, starts John Naughton’s recent piece in The Guardian. He puts the current tech empires, like Facebook and Apple, into perspective, and compares them to previously glorious hegemonies like Rome which eventually failed and withered. Now, even that is probably giving these companies too much credit. The parallel to Microsoft is probably more accurate; once the star and darling of the tech industry and press, they are now just another boring mega-corp.

One of the reasons Naughton mentions as why these two companies might see dark clouds ahead is their business models built around “walled gardens”. That happens to be in vogue right now, but might show cracks once users find that there are too many restrictions. However, before we see these stars fade, there will have to be alternatives. The Android “alliance” is certainly giving Apple a run for its money, but does still not compete in the “fashion category”. Facebook has some smaller competitors, but none of which can single-handedly sway users away. What would really tear their stronghold would be a federated model and protocols to social networking, just as what we take for granted with e-mail. Again, there are a few attempts at this, yet no signs that things will change drastically in the short term.

Smart phones: Android increasing, everybody else decreasing. Symbian still the king.

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From Gartner’s report on Q3 2010 sales of smart phones, rendered by Wikipedia above, Symbian is still the king of the hill with 36.6% of the OS share. However, they have taken a sharp hit year-by-year, down from 44.6% they year before. Meanwhile, Android increased drastically, from 3.5% to 25.5%. All the other smart phone OSes decreased, with Windows Mobile on par with Linux and “other”, at 1-3%.

Symbian will not reign much longer though, since Nokia is moving to the MeeGo OS for their next smart phones. Since iPhone 4 was launched end of 2010, it seems fair to expect a boost in Apple’s share. Several high end Android based phones have also been launched lately, so a further most might be expected here has well.

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