By Steven Musil on 23 August 2010
The company has applied for a patent, titled “Systems and Methods for Identifying Unauthorised Users of an Electronic Device”, that covers a series of security measures to automatically protect devices from thieves and other “unauthorised users”. Unauthorised users apparently applies to those who engage in jailbreaking, which allows devices to run apps not approved by the company producing the operating system — such as Apple, the main target of such bypasses.
The application, which was filed in February 2009 and published on Thursday last week, describes measures to identify “particular activities that may indicate suspicious behaviour”, so that “safety measures” can be taken to restrict the device’s functions. Those activities include the “hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking or removal of a SIM card”, according to the application. Apple also intends to send warnings to owners via email or text message when such activity is detected.
The application also describes a variety of measures that could be used to help identify the unauthorised user, including the activation of a camera that could capture and geotag the device’s surroundings, and perhaps current user, and transmit that information to a remote device:
“In some embodiments, an unauthorised user can be detected by comparing the identity of the current user to the identities of authorised users of the electronic device. For example, a photograph of the current user can be taken, a recording of the current user’s voice can be recorded, the heartbeat of the current user can be recorded, or any combination of the above. The photograph, recording or heartbeat can be compared, respectively, to a photograph, recording or heartbeat of authorised users of the electronic device to determine whether they match. If they do not match, the current user can be detected as an unauthorised user.”
When unauthorised use has been detected, “access to particular applications can be restricted, access to sensitive information can be restricted, sensitive information can be erased from the electronic device…”, the application states, effectively wiping and bricking the device.
Apple representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In July, US Copyright Office ruled that bypassing a manufacturer’s protection mechanisms to allow “handsets to execute software applications” no longer violates federal copyright law. However, while the US Copyright Office has declared the software legal, Apple has repeatedly discouraged users from loading such a bypass, reminding them that doing so will void their device’s warranty.
“As we’ve said before, the vast majority of customers do not jailbreak their iPhones as this can violate the warranty and can cause the iPhone to become unstable and not work reliably,” Apple said in a statement in response to the ruling.