Could the iPad Save the World?

Last Updated Apr 24, 2010 6:55 AM EDT

Yes, I'm serious. The Apple iPad may represent the world's best hope to someday being free from the ever-present threat of massive terrorist cyber-attacks and cyber-warfare. The iPad may also be the world's best hope for a computing environment where your personal data and identity isn't permanently up for grabs.

First, some straight talk about cyber-attacks. They're very real and they're very dangerous. Some military analysts believe that the next war will be fought on the cyber-battlefield, with the enemy using cyber attacks to destroy the economy.

Contrary to popular belief, the reason that we're vulnerable to such danger isn't because of the Internet. The real reason is...

...that Microsoft made the single most colossal security blunder in the history of computing.

Specifically, that blunder is the "feature" in Microsoft Windows that allows applications to alter permanently alter the operating system. While that decision made it possible to quickly host many different applications -- fueling the growth of Microsoft's Windows franchise and thereby defeating rival operating system products -- it also guaranteed that hackers would be able to arbitrarily make changes to nearly everything on the PC hard drive.

When Microsoft's engineers made the decision to have an "open" operating environment, they completely ignored 20 years of R&D in the field of operating system development. Back then, the standard design concept for an operating system's relationship with applications was 1) no application can EVER alter the operating system, and 2) applications are not allowed to alter each other permanently.

A sane operating system architecture effectively makes it impossible to permanently change the operating system unless you specifically have access to the operating system, which typically requires the entry of a password. And that password typically must be typed on the keyboard connected to the computer and only when connected to the operating system console.

This makes it impossible to harvest a password to the operating system, guaranteeing that -- no matter what happens -- it's always possible to return the operating system to its original configuration. While it's still possible to create malware that will run on such a system, hacking events can only take place in the walled-off environment of a single application and can't alter the operating system or other programs.

In other words, a sane operating system design makes it impossible to implant a virus in the operating system. That alone eliminates most of the problems associated with hacking, because without that feature it becomes virtually impossible to put a hidden program on your computer that monitors the keyboard. While it's still possible for a user to explicitly install and then run a program that contains malware, deleting that program get rid of that malware forever.

In other words, if you have a safe operating system that does not allow external chatnges, hacking becomes MASSIVELY more difficult and MASSIVELY less persistent.

And that's where the iPad comes in. According to the renowned computer industry analyst and veteran Apple watcher Rob Enderle:

To get in the Ap store you have to leave the core OS alone. Patches assume the OS is unchanged and are likely to brick the changed phone or undue any patches that were not authorized anyway. A virus can get to anything if it is designed properly but it would be much more difficult to put on an iPad or other tightly controlled device.
Enderle points out that it is possible to write a virus for the iPhone (and therefore the iPad), "this kind of attack is simply too difficult to be that practical." It will still be possible for programs to phish for passwords, but 1) Apple's control over Ap distribution makes phishing programs less likely and 2) phishing is much less likely to fool the IT people who have the passwords to government and corporate servers.

To put it bluntly, if we could somehow replace all the PCs in the world with iPads, the threat of cyberterrorism would essentially not exist. Yes, I realize that sounds like a big "if", so tomorrow I'll explain why it's not as big an "if" as you might think.

Oh, and I'll be basing my post on comments from the two most important experts in the world of sales and sales technology. So you won't want to miss it.

Meanwhile, here's a post where I discuss the problems of Windows in more detail: