Even before its official announcement in January, the news media was buzzing about the Apple iPad tablet computer, which went on sale in April. Although much hype surrounded the iPad, tablet computers have been around for years without gaining much popularity. The iPad received many glowing reviews by tech journalists, but also much criticism for features it lacks, such as Flash support, a USB port, and multitasking capabilities. Some observers predict the iPad will be the next big thing, while others say consumers don’t need yet another device to add to their smartphones, laptops, and netbooks.
Do you think the iPad will be successful? Do you have one or plan to buy one?
Responses to February’s Question
Hacking to Improve Security
German computer engineer Karsten Nohl deciphered the code used to encrypt most digital mobile phone calls and then published it online. He says his goal was to expose weaknesses in the GSM algorithm—a 21-year-old code used to protect the privacy of 80 percent of mobile calls—and spur the mobile phone industry to improve security. The GSM Association, the industry group that developed the algorithm, calls Nohl’s actions illegal and defends the security of wireless calls. But some security experts warn that extra steps must be taken to protect wireless conversations, just as is done for computer transmissions.
Do you agree with Nohl’s actions? Do you worry that wireless calls are not secure
Irresponsible but Potentially Profitable
Essentially, if Nohl was concerned with the security of mobile phone calls, he would not have published the code on the Internet. Obviously that action counteracts his supposed “noble” purpose. Instead, he should have contacted the major players in the GSM industry and shared his concerns, but otherwise kept his discovery private. Now he has actually opened the doors for abuse.
A responsible engineer considers the impact of his actions on society, the environment, and business. Nohl should have known that it wouldn’t be possible for the GSM industry to upgrade its technology and replace millions of devices.
Personally, however, I’m not concerned about my phone being hacked. I am far too insignificant for anyone to be interested in my phone conversations. If I were more important, I would seek additional protection. In fact, perhaps Nohl has uncovered a new business niche: mobile phone security devices for paranoid people who think they are important enough to be hacked. Maybe I should explore that opportunity and send Nohl a thank-you card.
El Cajon, Calif.
Criminal or New Hire?
While reverse-engineering the encrypting code may be illegal, the attitude that the code is secure has been proven false. But the mobile phone industry cannot refute that fact by burying its head in the sand. The industry should hire Nohl to help improve security, not complain that he broke the code.
How Secure Is Secure?
At least Nohl published the code instead of selling it for profit. The weakness in GSM has been exposed, and the problem needs to be fixed if the technology is to be called secure. Nohl’s code break leads to the question of what the appropriate level of security for wireless communication should be.
If you uncover a problem that affects a company’s device, then you should alert that company and let it develop a fix before you go public. If it does nothing, then you should go public because someone else can find the same flaw.
I disagree with Nohl’s actions. He should have gone directly to GSM authorities. Putting this information on the Internet was irresponsible and has the appearance of arrogance. He created opportunities for unethical people to exploit the weakness before those responsible for fixing the problem could do so. I am now concerned about security weaknesses of mobile phones and other electronic media.
Mount Airy, Md.