Intel's Moorestown would make iPhone less secure, says researcher
Swapping out the iPhone's ARM chip could lead to trouble
"That will make the iPhone x86, and that will make a lot of attacks easier," said Dino Dai Zovi, an independent security researcher, in an interview at the Hack In The Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Apple Inc. has never said it intends to use Moorestown in future products, but Intel is widely believed to be hopeful that Apple will adopt the chip package.
Due for release in 2009 or 2010, Moorestown is a chip package designed for smart phones and other handheld computers. The heart of the package is an upcoming version of Intel's Atom processor, an inexpensive low-power x86 processor.
"The iPhone uses the Arm processor, and most people are not familiar with it," Dai Zovi said, noting that x86 processors are familiar territory for malware writers and hackers looking for vulnerabilities. "If you're doing exploits and vulnerability research, you need to know the specifics of the processor that's running," he said.
Dai Zovi is a well-recognized figure in computer security circles and is widely known for winning a 2007 hacking contest that involved hacking into a MacBook Pro laptop. The feat by Dai Zovi and partner Shane Macaulay won them the MacBook Pro as well as a $10,000 prize, and it laid to rest popular misconceptions that Mac OS X was somehow immune from the type of security vulnerabilities that affect Windows-based computers.
Intel executives declined to comment on Dai Zovi's remarks, saying any discussion of a Moorestown-based iPhone is purely hypothetical. In addition, they said Intel's policy is to decline comment on other companies' products.
Mac OS X is generally seen as being safer than Windows, because the small market share of Mac OS X means most malware writers and hackers choose to focus their efforts on Windows instead. But that could change as iPhone sales boost the number of Mac OS X users.
"The iPhone is another OS X platform, and whereas now the market share for OS X is definitely under 10% on desktops, on smart phones, they recently sold more phones than RIM," Dai Zovi said, referring to the maker of the BlackBerry line of handheld devices.
The iPhone runs a slimmed-down version of Mac OS X, the operating system used in Apple's desktop and laptop computers. As a result, some of the security features that are included in the desktop version of Mac OS X are not included in the phone version.
"The iPhone is significantly less secure than the desktop version of OS X," Dai Zovi said.
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