R. Fink | I have seen the enemy and it is 'i'

The Packet Rat'Commentary: Apple's iPhone prompts a new wave of paranoia ' with panache

Packet Rat

Image: Illustration by Michael J. Bechetti

'I'm telling you, these things are a menace,' the Rat said to his wife, complaining about her recent iPhone purchase. 'They're cute little technology fetishes of doom.'

The whiskered one had put up a spirited defense trying to keep his wife from succumbing to the tech temptress that is Apple's entry into the wireless phone market ' mostly because he thinks there are better things to be spending about $400 on these days than a phone/music player/Web browser that does all of the above merely adequately ' though admittedly with a great deal of panache. But in the process, his inner security guru awoke, and now the iPhone is a vast new source of paranoia.

White-hat hackers recently demonstrated that the iPhone could be attacked and taken over via a WiFi network. That means that a hacker, in theory, could access its data, program it to make calls or even turn it into a bugging device. That threat alone is probably enough to get the iPhone banned from certain halls of power, and most definitely from Pentagon conference rooms.

'But I'm not going to any meetings at the Pentagon,' protested Mrs. Rat. 'And I suspect the only hackers I need to worry about getting access to my phone are our children, who spend all day here in this house trying to reverse-engineer wireless Xbox controllers so they can commandeer the neighbor kid's Halo 2 games from the roof.'

'Well, at least it's cheaper than summer camp,' the Rat shrugged. 'But this isn't about them, anyway. Ever since they saw what was on Paris Hilton's Sidekick, they've been staying clear of phone hacks. No, this is about the Evils of Digital Convergence, dear.'

It was bad enough when it was just the iPod. Every night, during desktop management sweeps, another fresh batch of iTunes installations gets wiped from the Rat's agency's laptop and desktop PCs. And then there was all that screaming the week he blocked YouTube to get enough bandwidth to actually log into e-mail.

But now, hundreds of people bring rogue Wi-Fi-enabled devices through agency doors every day. And if Google has its way, it's only going to get worse.

In an open letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt wrote that Google was ready to bid a minimum of $4.6 billion in the auction for 700-MHz wireless spectrum ' if FCC will set rules that enforce open access to the spectrum. The open letter was a follow-up to a previous letter delineating Google's position. 'In particular, our July 9th letter requested that the Commission should extend to all CMRS-type spectrum licensees clearly delineated, explicitly enforceable, and unwavering obligations to provide (1) open applications, (2) open devices, (3) open wholesale services and (4) open network access,' Schmidt wrote.

'Exciting prose,' the cyberrodent snorted. 'But what it really means is, 'We'll dump the equivalent of the gross domestic product of Jordan on you if you just let us extend our iron grip on the Internet to all wireless devices.' '

'I, personally, welcome our new Googly overlords,' his wife giggled. 'Now, come here and let me show the cutestet picture I found on LOLcats.com with my iPhone.'

And with that sentence, the Rat knew civilization was coming to an end.

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