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Apple seeks patent for Lightning connector authentication system

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
An Apple patent application discovered on Thursday describes an authentication system for portable media devices much like the solution used in the company's Lightning cable, the iDevice-centric successor of the venerable 30-pin dock connector.

Cross-Transport
Source: USPTO


The patent, titled "Cross-transport authentication," requires authentication controllers to be located at either the ports on a portable device and attached accessory, or the transport connector which can be a wire or cable. As seen with Apple's Lightning connector, the authentication module can take the form of a chip integrated at one side of the cable, providing the necessary permissions for an accessory to interface with a portable device.

In order to function, the authentication controller in the cable communicates a cross-transport request from the accessory or portable device and the subsequent permissions to interface or control said device. Because the authentication controller in the connector can be coupled to a number of communication channels, it can transmit audio, video and control signals along with the necessary permissions.

Embed in Cable
Embedded authentication controller (180) in cable.


Other embodiments are described in which authentication controllers are present at both the portable device and the accessory, however it appears that Apple has chosen to rely on security embedded into the cable itself.

From the patent application's abstract:

In one embodiment, authentication controller is implemented on a single integrated circuit, for example, on a single chip. By providing authentication controller on a single integrated circuit, external access to private key and/or authentication algorithm may be substantially reduced. As a result, the authentication process may not only be cryptographically secured but also physically secured by limited physical access.


The filing's summary offers a glimpse at why Apple chose to use authentication embedded in the new Lightning connector rather than use more conventional security options:

Existing interface protocols allow a portable media device (PMD) to control whether and how an accessory accesses functionality of the PMD. Such protocols restrict and/or limit access by third party devices that are error prone, disruptive, resource draining, and/or damaging to the media player. Moreover, such protocols may provide copy protections to media resources that are subject to copy restrictions.



Implementation
Sample implementation of patent application.


While physical authorization controllers may be a better fit for Apple's latest connector, the solution is not bulletproof, as evidenced by purported "cracked" authentication chips making their way out of China. Unauthorized third-party manufacturers are already producing cheap "knock-off" cables that are fully-functional, and may cut into Apple's profits if already constrained supplies aren't boosted.

It is unclear how the unlicensed parts will affect Apple's plans to collect royalties on "Made for iPhone/iPad/iPod" accessories, but it seems that the company's attempts to maintain total control over the third-party accessory cottage industry has been thwarted even before the first licensed products roll off the assembly line.
post #2 of 8
I believe part of this is Apple way of preventing jailbreaking the phone or other device. I am betting the chip on the cable will not allow un-authorized access to the device or transferring un-authorized software.
post #3 of 8
Apple may declare this patent as a SEP with FRAND terms.
post #4 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maestro64 View Post

I believe part of this is Apple way of preventing jailbreaking the phone or other device. I am betting the chip on the cable will not allow un-authorized access to the device or transferring un-authorized software.

 

I think this is mainly a way to keep "junk" cables off the market. If you put an authentication chip in the cable and patent the design, you can take unauthorized things like charging cables off the market for violating the patent. So you go after companies making cheap knockoff cables that might, for example, have the potential to cause damage to the battery while charging, and license it for a nominal fee to companies who are producing quality cables that you can verify the quality of.

post #5 of 8
Interesting (not that Apple actually USES all their patents) but I still think if Apple was serious about locking third parties out of making accessories, they could do so. It%u2019s not beyond their power to use a non-clonable method.
post #6 of 8
There is an interesting risk with these fake cables about to arrive on the market... if engineers have analyzed how the iPhone talks to the chip and these fake USB cables simply respond in the same way, the risk is that Apple can change the authentication challenge and suddenly the cables will no longer work because they won't know the new correct response.

If Apple did that, people might be as annoyed at Apple as the cable companies, so not sure if breaking a bunch of fake cables is in Apple's interest either. But, it's a thought.

Of course if they've copied the chip in it's entirety, this is not possible. Just some random thoughts.
post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by realwarder View Post

There is an interesting risk with these fake cables about to arrive on the market... if engineers have analyzed how the iPhone talks to the chip and these fake USB cables simply respond in the same way, the risk is that Apple can change the authentication challenge and suddenly the cables will no longer work because they won't know the new correct response.
If Apple did that, people might be as annoyed at Apple as the cable companies, so not sure if breaking a bunch of fake cables is in Apple's interest either. But, it's a thought.
Of course if they've copied the chip in it's entirety, this is not possible. Just some random thoughts.


This brings back a memory of how Palm was hacking its USB serial ID to trick iTunes into believing its handsets were Apple devices so users could sync their devices.

I remember Apple's moving-target defense by constantly put out new updates to iTunes to prevent Palm's hacking methods.

post #8 of 8
Originally Posted by sflocal View Post

I remember Apple's moving-target defense by constantly put out new updates to iTunes to prevent Palm's hacking methods.

 

And then it ended when the USB Standards Group told Palm that if they did it again they'd have their USB license revoked entirely.

 

Hopefully the same will happen with these clowns.

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