One of the advantages of being a troglodyte is a person has fewer worries than those who keep up with trends. For example, traveling by horse and buggy, like the Amish, means the price of gasoline is unimportant. I gain a similar advantage with my flip top cell phone. This dinosaur had no email, camera or GPS. I don’t need those frills as I live in front of my computer. When I go out to be with friends, I want to stay off the grid. Facebook, I’m confident can carry on without me.
Escaping the grid isn’t easy for Apple’s smart phone users. At the heart of their digital piece is something called a kernel. A kernel is the iPhone’s digital brain and the company does everything it can to protect it from predators — hackers who want to take control of that brain. (“Invading Apple,” by Bryan Burrough, Vanity Fair, 2016/17, Holiday issue, pg. 190.) The reason for wanting control may be harmless — to sell you tickets to an Eskimo pie eating contest, for example. But sometimes, a more sinister plan is afoot.
To understand, first you must know that all Apple kernels are the same. Once you breach one, you breach them all like the Borgs. If taking control can be accomplished remotely through wi-fi, that maneuver is called a jail break and is highly desirable because it is difficult to trace. Let me emphasize, a jail break isn’t about inserting a code to spy on a single user. Because the kernels are duplicates of one another, a jail break gives the hacker the ability to snoop into every Apple iPhone in the world and also implant viruses. The power to connect with the world in a single stroke is not only the dream of Madison Avenue but of repressive governments and crooks, which is why Apple so closely guards the kernel.
Unfortunately, their efforts recently failed. Some genius managed the jail break. A couple of security folks discovered it accidentally. With the help of others, they discovered the code originated with a computer company in Israel and from there it migrated to the United Arab Emirates. No one is admitting knowledge of the achievement; but when Apple understood the enormity of the penetration, it developed a patch. For the moment, the kernel is safe.
Burrough’s account of the hunt for the mystery hacker(s) who broke into a wild (Ibid pg. 191), reads like a spy thriller, similar to the saga of the Allied hunt for Germany’s Enigma Code during World War II. (Click) That war is over, but hacking is a never ending quest. As Chris Soghoian of the A. C. L. U. explains, “What these cyber dealers have done is democratize digital surveillance… The surveillance tools once only used by big governments are now available to anyone with a couple hundred grand to spend.” (Ibid, pg. 191) What can I say? Sometimes it’s good to be a little behind the curve.