Is an iStorm gathering?

In his column this week in BusinessWeek, Stephen Wildstrom applauds the hacking efforts of those responsible for unlocking the iPhone so it can be used on networks other than AT&T’s. Other hacking efforts, he says, work to make it possible for iPhone owners to install applications beyond what Apple intended. “More power to the folks who are working, often as volunteers, to make the product better,” he concludes.

While I am a fan of Wildstrom -- in my opinion he ranks up there with the NY Times’ David Pogue and the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg for insightful, readable reportage on consumer electronics -- I am troubled by his allowance, indeed his championing, of the alteration by hackers of a company’s licensed, copyrighted product.

I can see his point that these so-called fixes open the door to new possibilities -- in this case, the hack allows users to roam on T-Mobile as well as AT&T wireless networks, albeit with some liabilities (no Visual Voicemail and software updates will likely invalidate the hack).

But the innovative tinkering Wildstrom celebrates raises the argument for me of whether users should be allowed to customize proprietary operating systems?

And from a security standpoint, how will the unauthorized penetration affect the user’s phone and, more importantly, the network itself.

The workarounds at this point have beneficial intentions, but are they opening the firewall for legions of hackers with malicious intentions?

While I empathize with the spirit in his message to push beyond the accepted, I am concerned that Wildstrom's trumpeting and validation of hacking practices in a mainstream publication contributes to an eroding of boundaries, both ethical and legal.

But hey, this is what the IT security industry is all about, and these fresh developments ensure employment for many security pros for some time.

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