Apple talks about securing iOS devices in rare Black Hat appearance

Over 80 percent of iOS users are running Apple’s latest operating system, which the company says is the most secure version of the mobile operating system available. But that’s not enough for Apple.

The company’s head of platform security, Dallas De Atley, spoke at the annual Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas today, stepping out of the company’s normal comfort zone of not telling much to anybody — but not too far. The talk centered around a white paper the company released in early June titled “iOS Security,” the same title of his talk.

De Atley reviewed the process of protecting phones from the very bottom of the operating system up through to app-protections, and into the most obvious security feature: the passcode. According to De Atley, Apple was concerned with the differences between a phone and a laptop and how some of the functions of the latter would be unnecessary — or even dangerous — in the former.

“When you close your laptop and it goes to sleep and you put it in your bag, it’s fundamentally done doing work on your behalf,” said De Atley during the session. “But in the case of an iPhone, you’re going to put it in your pocket and it is going to be always on, always connected, it’s got all your data, and if it’s doing work on your behalf, you’re probably not going to notice.”

To this point, Apple specifically excluded the ability to log in remotely from iOS. It also did not include a shell, which gives users access to the base of the operating system — two features found in laptops.

Apple also ensured that everything in its operating system is signed by Apple, that is, approved by Apple and assigned a security certificate to prove it’s safe. This includes the applications built into iOS, as well as any third party applications.

All iOS devices are also equipped with the ability to check with Apple to see if any of those certificates have been revoked, leaving the application distrusted, and thus, unusable.

Apple plans to release the next installment of its mobile operating system, iOS 6, sometime this fall.

Photo of Dallas De Astley courtesy Black Hat Events.