iPhone OS 4: Is Multi-Tasking Really About Security?
As the iPad and Mobile OS 4 for the iPhone family are readied for release in the coming months, the rumor mill is chock full of 'multi-tasking' talk. Yet there has been little discussion of what multi-tasking really means to the average user.
To start with, the iPhone already features multi-task, so it's not such a new feature in fact. It's already able to listen for incoming texts and phone calls, while letting music to be played with awaiting updates. The current version of the iPhone OS uses preemptively multitasking Mach/BSD kernel, exactly the same as Apple's desktop Mac OS X. Meanwhile, consumers see multi-tasking as the ability to run more than one third-party program simultaneously like on desktops and laptops.
Actually, extensive multi-tasking is an essential even from the conventional security point of view, let alone the users' convenience. That is not the talk about the security of the external look of the device – that's what iPhone 4 case can do for you. That's about the software security. Think of it: each time you create a Word document or something, there's a large number of security processes in the background, consuming the valuable power, and, of course, sharing the CPU resources and memory. At the very least, anti-virus software, along with anti-spam, should run constantly, at the same time as the VPN and personal firewall help to secure the device completely.
The individual consumers and companies usually run various versions of security software of different brands to keep the highest rate of hostile code and activities detection. At the same time the user is busy with typing, listening, or downloading rich content. So, it comes essential for tens of millions users of Apple's iPhone to have multi-tasking in the OS 4, because it seems to be critical just from a security point. However, it's just a false feeling and actually doesn't matter. Apple could do the same as Android and Windows Mobile that allow any type of application to run whenever the user wants it to, facing the same pack of conflict problems and system performance that were discovered on the ordinary PCs. As soon as Apple's A4 processor has up to 4 cores, OS 4 would be able to separate the internal system processes from the others on one core while using the others to manage third party software.
One more potential look on OS 4 may consider multi-tasking allowing one third-party application, for example, native Safari and mail running simultaneously, while permitting two, three, or whatever number of Apple proprietary applications running, managed by a kind of Command-Shift to switch between them. In fact, the definition of multi-tasking is not "running as many applications as the user wants." On the contrary, creating rational restrictions to keep user's experience positive is one certain approach for the mobile OS developers.
So what would happen to security in this case? Actually, smart phones are only small computers, and are therefore subject to the same weaknesses as of the ordinary PC, letting alone jail broken iPhones. By the way, the smaller devices win in the design and look, because you won't able to put a colorful iPhone 4 cover on your Mac to raise your mood. But if we go back to the software problems and imagine that Apple would select to let an unrestricted number of security applications to run simultaneously (multi-task), then it would imitate the state of security where the user is the responsible one for managing them all. Besides, each security application would be loaded onto and run from the endpoint. However, one should agree that although the individual consumers need security and companies require it for compliance, such unrestricted approach to security (even in OS 4 environment) faces several questions:
1. How long will the battery live, even that of the iPad, with numerous security applications being loaded and run constantly?
2. How big is the share of processing power and storage that will be required to ensure the highest level of security?
3. Considering preemptive multi-task, which of the processes will take priority over the others, especially if they are able to affect both security and performance?
4. Assuming that the security should be running at all the times, will the users have to launch all the security services every single time they turn their device on? If compared with OS X, the consumers there are able to select applications launched automatically at the start in "login items", and this feature undoubtedly demands a broad method of multi-tasking.
5. What skills and knowledge will the consumer need to acquire to be able to find, install, configure and control countless security applications?
6. While using time-based security balance, how will the use of a smart phone endpoint, as compared to the cloud, affect the last mile performance in terms of handling richer content and security?
7. What should user do when turning his phone off for the night to turn it back on in the morning? Assume that the consumer is only intended to check the email, but will have to wait while the multi-tasking iPhone finishes performing a series of security actions first.
8. Remembering that the resources of iPhone are more limited than those of an ordinary PC, how often do security signatures, profiles, and alerts need to be updated?
Since Apple's approach depends on available intelligence, it seems that it is going to serve the user experience like that in Expose, which allows them to switch easier between the running applications. However, it's not quite clear if it means that the consumer will be able to watch video on YouTube and then quickly enough to switch over to email, favoring it by essentially pausing YouTube. You could argue it's multi-tasking that kernel manages. But, nevertheless, this approach still won't allow to implement the traditional ways of securing the device. And it doesn't matter which of the multi-tasking approach will be chosen to be introduced into iPhone OS 4 or beyond, if it fails to tackle the security problems with conventional methods. No matter if it is iPhone running OS 3 or 4, or even X, or the multi-tasking Symbian or Android, since it's clear enough that consumers shouldn't rely on the phone vendor for security, just as nobody thinks it to be the PC vendor's concern for the entire period of digital century. In fact, securing all current and future versions of foreseeable mobile technology will only mean a creation of a really integrated secure smart phone framework and architecture that is able to work in the cloud.
So, if we look from a security point, it doesn't actually matter what way Apple will choose to design multi-tasking for the OS 4. Since the user experience is a priority, we can guess that most of the consumers don't dream about putting the security at the top of the list of what they want to do in the morning. Just imagine what can happen in couple years when over 2 billion mobile users chose to secure their device only with iPhone 4 case, but not with useful aplications? Shall we find it out?
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