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Why Apple must be looking into using blockchain

Apple, iOS, Mac, Bloomberg, Blockchain, T2, MacBook Pro, iPhone

Everyone who can is looking into using Blockchain, and Apple is no exception, though it will be a long time before we see any consumer-facing implementations of this.

Apple looks at lots of technologies

If it’s on the Gartner Hype Cycle, you can bet a few bucks Apple is looking at it.

That’s why I think it will eventually introduce a 3D printer that works in conjunction with ARKit (unverified prediction), and also why it must be thinking about how to use blockchain.

There has to be some way the distributed, decentralized ledger system that can record (and verify) every transaction may be useful to such a huge company. Its internal supply systems would surely benefit.

[ Further reading: What is blockchain? The most disruptive tech in decades ]

Business processes

Think about how blockchain could be used internally at Apple: iTunes and apps sales and Apple ID information, sales ledgers, stock, and inventory control..

Apple has all the internal processes of any other major multinational, and every blockchain evangelist has an argument that the distributed ledger technology can make these processes more efficient and more secure.

Those arguments have some weight. That is why big companies like Walmart, Maersk, FedEx, UPS, and British Airways use blockchain components in their internal supply chain management systems. 

[ Get certified as an Apple Technical Coordinator with this seven-part online course from PluralSight. ]

In fact, with most of Apple’s income based on hardware sales, it makes less sense for Apple not to explore use of the technology than for it to do so.

It certainly seems possible the company will use it to help make internal processes more efficient.

Evidence Apple is exploring blockchain

While it makes sense that Apple should be looking into using blockchain, there is very little actual evidence that the company is doing that.

There is a fragment: a patent published at the end of 2017 that talked about using blockchain-based tech to enhance the security of the Secure Element used in Apple devices.

The idea is that if that element is compromised, other trusted parties with access to the blockchain will recognize this, acting as a new line of defense against such attack.

“A maliciously altered block in the blockchain will not be recognized by the device and will not be recognized by the Secure Element, and thus a bogus time value will not corrupt the state of the Secure Element,” the patent explains.

Cryptographic security for the rest of us

Apple’s recently introduced T2 chip inside MacBook Pro has attracted controversy — some call it a “kill switch” against independent repair shops.

I don’t think it is meant to be that — I think it has been designed as a huge security improvement. The T2 handles things such as Siri and Touch ID, and it provides on-the-fly encryption and secure boot.

This means all the data on your Mac can only be read by the Mac and that you must have your personal key to hand to access it. It also means that if someone gets into your machine using a sonic screwdriver (topical, huh?), they will still have a tough time extracting your data.

The T2 shows that Apple is baking personal identity more tightly inside its products at a chip level despite Bloomberg’s incredibly questionable 2018 claims, which Apple (and everyone else who should know) strenuously refutes.

My argument is that the chip (and the blockchain patent) betray some of the ways Apple is thinking about identity and data: It is attempting to automate ID verification at a hardware level — it may even be able to use other devices/nodes on the network to provide verification for a device, making individual devices even harder to break.

Apple knows your data is valuable

Getting the device off the network is essential if you steal a system, want to sell it, or want to steal its data.

That is why smartphone thieves try to grab iPhones from your hands while they are being used, so they can immediately switch them to AirPlane mode, as they are then impossible to track. This is also why you should always be aware when using these things on the street.

I think Apple wants to connect a device up to an individual user in a fashion that is so secure that no one except the most highly paid government-backed cyber criminal will see any value in breaking that security.

It’s a good argument. Cyber criminals chasing a quick buck will already pour most of their effort into one of the many ineffectively protected platforms that for some reason continue to exist in the world. Though the world really should know better than to use or evangelize them. You know who they are.

I see the outcome as like this:

If every device your Apple device ever interacted with carried a fragment of proof concerning your device’s identity, how would anyone ever be able to gain legitimate access to it? So long as a device is on the network, it can be verified.

Apple isn’t doing this out of any sense of altruism, of course. It wants to replace your wallet, and that means ensuring it can provide industry-leading protection for all it contains: money, health data, personal information, credit cards, and all the other keys to your own individual or enterprise magic kingdom.

Delivering anything less would be irresponsible. The plan is also completely in tune with current thinking.

Got a story? Please drop me a line via Twitter and let me know. I’d like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can tell you about new articles I publish and reports I find.

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