Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Hackers lift the bonnet on iPhone

Hordes of hackers and security researchers have been poring over Apple's iPhone in an effort to discover vulnerabilities in the handsets.

Top of their list has been cracking the code that ties the phone to operator AT&T, the iPhone's exclusive network.

If successful, it would allow iPhone owners the ability to use their handset on other networks, including in Europe.

Some have already worked out ways to activate the phone without having to register it with AT&T through iTunes.

One prominent hacker, Jon Lech Johansen, has published an activation tool on his website.

Mr Johansen - better known as DVD Jon - rose to fame at the age of 15 when he wrote and distributed a program that cracked the encryption codes on DVDs.

Although the new tool allows people to switch on the device and use many of its functions, it does not allow users to make phone calls.

"There are people who want an iPhone to use it as an iPod and wi-fi device without having to enter into a two-year AT&T contract," wrote Mr Johansen on his blog.

Video nasty

He is one of a community of technophiles probing the much-hyped gadget. Researchers at Errata Security say they have exposed a flaw in the gadget's web browser that could allow a hacker some control over the phone.

The flaw in the Safari browser is the same as one Errata discovered earlier this year in a test version of the program designed to run on Microsoft Windows.

However, the firm's chief executive Robert Graham noted that the handsets were less vulnerable than other products.

"We think the iPhone is inherently more secure than competing smartphones - such as those based on Windows Mobile or Symbian," he wrote on his blog.

In particular, Mr Graham said that the phone's ability to receive updates when connected to iTunes was a "good sign" and a measure that would provide an extra level of security to the phone.

But not all investigations of the long-awaited gadget have been so measured.

Within hours of it going on sale, photos and videos appeared on the web showing the inner workings of disassembled phones.

Apple parts and repair site, conducted one of the most clinical dismantling, posting numerous of high-quality photos alongside technical commentary.

But others were more amateur. One video on YouTube called iPhone smash showed two people taking the phone apart with a hammer.

The video has so far been viewed over 300,000 times and has generated a mixture of support and outrage.

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