iPhone isn't secureable enough for the South Korea military - but Android is

Posted:
in iPhone edited April 23

An iPhone ban in the South Korean military that has less to do with security and more to do with a poorly crafted mobile device management suite coupled with nationalism may be expanding to the rank-and-file.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 14 Pro Max
iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 14 Pro Max



The ban, in Samsung's backyard, has reportedly started in the country's Air Force headquarters. A report on Tuesday morning claims that the ban is on all devices capable of voice recording and do not allow third-party apps to lock this down -- with iPhone specifically named.

"It's inevitable to block any kind of voice recording, not just formal communications including meetings, office conversations, business announcements and complaints from and consultations with the public, but also informal communications such as private phone calls (within military buildings)," the document distributed by the military reportedly says.

According to sources familiar with the matter cited by Tuesday's report, the iPhone is explicitly banned. Android-based devices, like Samsung's, are exempt from the ban.

The ban isn't just on iPhones. It also is said to encompass wearables like the Apple Watch as well.

Beyond potential favoritism for the home-grown devices, it's not clear why the South Korean government thinks that third-party apps on iPhone can't lock down voice recording. The report says the camera can be locked down by mobile device management, but there are ways to prevent audio recording as well.

The issue appears to be that the South Korean National Defense Mobile Security mobile device management app doesn't seem to be able to block the use of the microphone. This particular MDM was rolled out in 2013, with use enforced across all military members in 2021.

The report talks about user complaints about the software, and inconsistent limitations depending on make, model, and operating system. A military official speaking to the publication says that deficiencies on Android would be addressed in a software update.

Discussions are apparently underway to extend the total ban downwards to the entire military. The Army is said to have tried the ban as well.

Smartphone restrictions in secure facilities are common, but a total ban is not



The apparently faulty South Korean military MDM aside, there are obvious reasons to not have a device handy that can communicate with the outside world when security is paramount.

It's not uncommon to have some kind of smart device restriction in secure facilities, with the requirements escalating proportionately to the security needs. Two AppleInsider staffers -- including this author -- can directly testify to how this works at several different levels.

South Korea's potential iPhone ban spanning all military buildings and personnel is extreme. It speaks to a larger issue with security training, compliance, and access control. There is also a hint of nationalism, as Samsung devices are explicitly allowed.

Seven in 10 South Korean military members are Samsung users. So, the ban appears to be mostly symbolic.



Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    Looks like other countries have figured out how to give a tit-for-tat response to US bullying other countries' goods manufacturers. US is no longer the country that every one fears anymore and hence more and more retaliatory actions against US products is seen in most countries now.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 2 of 11
    Is bog standard Android open source?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 11
    danoxdanox Posts: 2,991member
    They are trying to shore up Samsung......
    williamlondondewmewatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 11
    Is bog standard Android open source?
  • Reply 5 of 11
    ppl dont understand something that all android phones r totally different in the security and camera . it mostly depends on the company.
    google is the most secure phone it has security and updates for 7yrs samsung also has 7yrs but google also has free vpn so when on public wifi u r totally secure.
    but some phones r totally useless for security then dont get any security updates
    williamlondon
  • Reply 6 of 11
    Looks like other countries have figured out how to give a tit-for-tat response to US bullying other countries' goods manufacturers. US is no longer the country that every one fears anymore and hence more and more retaliatory actions against US products is seen in most countries now.
    "Has South Korea and the US been having a spat recently I was unaware of?"
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 11
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,738member
    Is bog standard Android open source?
    The trick with Android is that, if you want your Android device to have access to Google services (search, maps, mail, etc) then you need to be GMS certified. Those APIs & apps aren't open source.

    AFAIK, Samsung devices are GMS certified and so there's no way they can block use of the microphone from Google's apps. So it appears to be a symbolic ban based on favouring local. Though perhaps they have a special arrangement with Google on this.
    dewmewilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 11
    ctt_zhctt_zh Posts: 76member
    auxio said:
    Is bog standard Android open source?
    The trick with Android is that, if you want your Android device to have access to Google services (search, maps, mail, etc) then you need to be GMS certified. Those APIs & apps aren't open source.

    AFAIK, Samsung devices are GMS certified and so there's no way they can block use of the microphone from Google's apps. So it appears to be a symbolic ban based on favouring local. Though perhaps they have a special arrangement with Google on this.
    You can disable the microphone on GMS Certified Android devices... either completely or on a per-app basis.
    edited April 23 williamlondonwatto_cobragatorguy
  • Reply 9 of 11
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,427member
    Totally unsurprising. We can only hope to be able to do the same thing.

    I fully expect that the South Korean military has far more influence over a domestic company like Samsung than it does over Apple. If push comes to shove Samsung is far more likely to comply to "requests" from the South Korean government and military for things that Apple would not even consider doing. From a national security standpoint having domestic suppliers and manufacturers for anything that is vital to national and military security and sustainability makes a hell of a lot of sense.   

    Keep in mind that these requests may need not even be controversial. They could be as benign as having Samsung continue to provide parts, components, and support for smartphone models and software versions that are no longer commercially viable for Samsung, but are still vitally important for use by the military. Other countries like the US have experienced serious parts sourcing issues as they've transitioned from mil-spec to commercial off-the-shelf parts, components, sub-systems, and systems. Same thing with a large number of production, transportation, and infrastructure related systems. 

    Companies like Apple are constantly advancing the state-of-the-art when it comes to technology and innovation. Faster is always better. On the other hand, governments, the military, large manufacturing operations, transportation systems, and infrastructure operations, e.g., oil refineries, chemical processing, power generation plants, etc., have very long service lives. The pieces and parts and software needed to keep those things going aren't swapped out like we swap out our iPhones. Smartphones have certainly gotten better in terms of service life, way up from 2-year cycles early on, but they are still happening at a very fast pace. A chemical processing plant may last 25-30 years. Some of the parts needed to keep them running are no longer available. If these companies didn't buy a bunch of spares up-front, they are in real trouble.

    Maintaining a strong relationship with a supplier of critical parts, etc., is important. Having a trusted supplier that's closer and within your sphere of control and influence really matters. Strategic partnerships and relationships can change very quickly. Friends today, enemies tomorrow. I know this personally from my time in the military. One day a quarter of my training class was Iranian. The next day they they were all gone, as was Iran's ability to utilize the systems and systems they had outsourced to the US. We don't want to put ourselves in that position, neither does South Korea. At a national security level this is so much bigger than Apple-vs-Samsung or iOS-vs-Android.
    edited April 23 watto_cobramuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 10 of 11
    iPhones, Samsungs ... all made in China. So they don't liked to be listened to bey their partnering nation (USA), but don't care about the supporter of their dangerous neighbor in the north (North Korea). Yep makes perfect sense to me.
  • Reply 11 of 11
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 24,293member
    iPhones, Samsungs ... all made in China. So they don't liked to be listened to bey their partnering nation (USA), but don't care about the supporter of their dangerous neighbor in the north (North Korea). Yep makes perfect sense to me.
    Most of Samsung's smartphone production happens in Vietnam, with the remainder coming primarily from India. Indonesia, Brazil and China account for the odd-out leftovers.

    That's a major reason for China's market becoming anti-Korean several years ago. Samsung saw the writing early on and decided to move away from dependence on Chinese factories. In return the Chinese media turned on them since they were taking their factories elsewhere. I suspect Apple will suffer the same fate if they decide to move the majority of production elsewhere. 
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