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Again on mobile phones protection

After my previous post on the matter I’ve found out that, first of all, iOS does support complex passwords, and second I had an experience that strengthened my feeling that Apple’s move toward TouchID is a good move.

So around 24 hours later, I guess the shock itself is wearing off, even though the scene is still extremely fuzzy in my mind.

Last night, after saying bye to [Andrea] and [Fabio] I was trying to get a cab on the South Side, and after two drivers calling to say that they couldn’t pick me up (so why on earth did you accept the ride on [HAILO] ?) I decided to cross the river — on the next pedestrian bridge next to O’Connell (Ha’Penny).

Just before finishing crossing, some scumbag yanks my phone out of my hands (while I was calling another cab). I should have just left them the phone and called Security to have it locked & tracked down, but I got into fight-or-flight mode and, as it turns out, in particular in fight mode.

I run after the guy, who was trying to cross Ormond Quay, but thanks to him trying to avoid getting driven over I catch and grab him by the chest. He drops my phone, not sure if hoping I’d let go or because he struggled; his partner then punches me in the face and screamsfor me to let him go, my glasses and my hat fall on the sidewalk, and the two guys run away.

I pick up the glasses, put my hat back on and check on the phone, it’s ringing, it’s the cab driver. One passer by actually stops to ask me if I’m okay and if I got my phone, I’m afraid I ended up being rude to him, but I was quite shocked. The cab driver has been the most understanding, I walked away from him instead of toward, but he caught up with me, and got me safely back home. I probably should have reported this but at the time I couldn’t think, and now it would be useless.

Speaking with Security tonight I realized how stupid it has been of me to run after the guy, I should have just turned back, asked Andrea to call them to pick me up and track the phone. They could have had a knife, a rock or even just any other blunt object.

I got lucky, again… it’s not the first time, I sure hope it’s not going to be the last time (although I’d like not to need to be lucky). But sure I don’t want to stray to the North Side too often.

There is no need to tell me I was totally stupid and irresponsible, I know that. On the other hand, I can say now that I’m happy Apple decided to address the phone theft problem in a non-obvious way.

No, TouchID is not better than a PIN. No, it does not resist against even shallow targeted attacks. No, it does not protect you against police forces — why should it?

But it’s more convenient than a PIN, and people who wouldn’t even use a PIN (let alone a stronger password) because of the inconvenience are likely to rather consider using TouchID. And while again this will not protect you against self-indictment (again, why should it? — yes if it wasn’t clear enough, I’m usually trusting the police more than your average paranoid), the standard city thief wouldn’t have much use of a locked phone, beside as parts.

As long as the news goes around that phones can’t be unlocked and their value on the black market goes down, the amount of thieveries will go down.

So instead of blaming Apple for not addressing your concerns of a paranoid geek (concerns that, at this point, were addressed a long time ago and the solution for was not invalidated), think about what they are really trying to solve.

Comments 6
  1. Well… IF the biometric system wouldn’t be fooled by a fingerprint silicone mold yes, it would make the whole item less than interesting to steal.I would be a tad at unease with item people might consider unlockable by cutting my hands off…

  2. You’d hope that cost benefit/analysis for most thieves says that cutting off somebody’s finger (actual bodily harm) has sufficient cost/potential cost to outweigh the benefits.Are fingerprint silicon molds sufficiently cost effective for the value of a stolen phone?

  3. It’s even more than just the cost/potential. What happened to me on Friday would have never happened if the thieves were considering my phone as locked with a fingerprint-based lock: they wouldn’t have had the time, in the middle of the bridge, to cut my finger off even if they intended to.The silicon mold might be more possible, but that assumes that they’d find the fingerprints on the phone. The usage ones on the screen are likely to be smeared — the obvious place, the battery compartment, is not present in either iPhone or most modern phones, for good or bad, and micro/nano SIM cards don’t provide enough surface to record a print.The weak spot, if anything, is the possible cover of the phone. I’d be curious to try a physical attack to the device, I might try to get something done at the office at some point.

  4. Some people suggest to use a finger for unlocking which you don’t use to hold or operate the phone – like the left pinkie if you are right-handed.

  5. >They could have had a knife, a rock or even just any other blunt object.Be glad you don’t live in the USA or Mexico, if you lived there they could have had a gun. Since I live in a country with a pretty dysfunctional government (Mexico), I have zero trust in my local, regional or federal authorities when it comes to security.

  6. I don’t understand you: After talking with security you agree that it was not a good idea to run after the criminals.You also did not mention that you get help from any other people watching the scene.Now you think it would be a good thing if criminals would know that stealing a phone would be useless? Sorry, but this is very naive:What should have them stopped from forcing you to show them your phone and to unlock it?! Nothing. And if you end in panic and start crying they would have knocked you out (not because to kill you, but to stop you from crying…).Some car manufactures created such a system for premium cars. The cars were useless for normal thieves. But instead of stopping stealing these premium cars, the criminals changed the way they operate: They start attacking the car owner in their houses when they were sleeping. So a previous theft became a hostage. And like Jorge Castillo said, they don’t wait that long. If you don’t do what they want you to do or if they don’t want to deal with you, they took what they need from you without your help… yes, this was (and is a real problem).Long story short: The car manufactures react and replaced the working security system with a system criminals could overcome. They did that, because their customers told them: They can replace are car, but they cannot undo physical harm..So if you really think a group of people will let you go if they decided to attack you, just because they see “Huh, this guy’s phone is locked! We cannot sell it…” you are really naive.Yes, it may stop ‘opportunity thieves’… but it will create a new kind of threat.And now let’s talk about people like Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald. Imagine you are Mr. Greenwald’s partner. The local authority will arrest you just because you are Greenwald’s partner. You don’t cooperate, because you don’t have too and you don’t think you should do. No problem! They will get the fingerprint from you without your help. With that fingerprint they are able to open your digital life without your help (thanks to the new world, where everything is in a cloud). Ah, you don’t use clouds just because of…? ;)PS: Your preview button doesn’t work.

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