Apple looks bad after the theft of thousands of nude photos of celebrities allegedly taken from its iCloud servers, even if the company denies responsibility. The fiasco is one reason company shares fell 4.2% on Wednesday, and some have warned it could spoil the expected Sept. 9 announcement of the iPhone 6 and a smart watch.
But Apple is not alone in cyber security vulnerability. Home Depot, Target, UPS, and thousands of other businesses have suffered major data breaches, while more than a billion passwords were recently stolen from around the web by Russian hackers, with untold more taken through the Heartbleed bug.
More than any one company, it’s cyber security in general that is broken. Passwords have become unreliable, especially since few people have the wherewithal to create, remember, and update dozens of long and unique passwords — and solutions offered by password managers are unwieldy, as I’ve learned while using LastPass for the past few weeks.
In the face of this crisis, Apple may actually be closer than anyone to a viable solution.
It starts with the fingerprint sensor in the iPhone. Introduced in the current iPhone 5S, this technology works much better than versions in other phones and while not infallible it is very secure, with fingerprint data stored in highly encrypted form on the actual device and nowhere else.
So far this technology has been available for logging into iPhones and making purchases from Apple, but it was opened up to third-party developers earlier this summer.
Letting other apps use it could make all mobile payments much more secure — so much so that analysts are warning PayPal and other mobile payment competitors are in trouble.
And current fingerprint technology is just the beginning.
A recent Apple patent for a way to change security requirements based on location mentions the possibility of “DNA, fingerprints, retinal scans, voice identification, cadence of typing, walking, talking, and other biometric identification methods.” In other words, highly secure multi-factor authentication systems are likely in the works.
All told, these innovations could boost Apple’s mobile security by leaps and bounds.
As for nude selfies, however, we’re still waiting for assurance from Apple that iCloud is safe or getting safer. It would be a game changer if Apple integrated fingerprint technology or other forms of multi-factor authentication into web services. While that mere possibility is exciting, in the meantime you may be better of deleting those pictures.
Disclosure: I am invested in Apple.