A Broken Lock Is Secure 100% Of The Time

That's Real Security

I’m doing deep-soak testing with the Samsung Galaxy S III. I’m at that bit of the pageant where my iPhone is shut off and I’m using the S III for absolutely everything. I’m liking it a lot.

I flicked the power switch this morning and was presented with a bug. The phone is supposed to be showing a 3×3 grid of dots but for some reason, it’s drawn the thing way off to the side, there.

I need to draw a specific pattern across that whole grid to unlock the phone. So that’s, um…unfortunate.

Before we proceed further: I restarted the phone and it cleared right up. No worries. But the bug put me in a philosophical frame of mind. The function of a lock screen is to limit access to the phone’s data and services. So is this problem a bug? Or is it really the most effective lock screen device ever?

I’m reminded of the series of old cars I’ve owned. Many of them were impossible to steal as they neared end-of-life.

(Beyond the fact that they’ve never been closer than one standard deviation under the mean desirability of the cars in any parking lot.)

(Then again, I’ve never left one in a dealer lot of unsold Pontiac Azteks.)

Each of them eventually acquired signature problems that made them impossible to operate by anyone other then their owner. My current car is ticking along just great with no mechanical problems or quirks whatsoever. Soon after it broke 120K, however, there was a three-week period in which the starting procedure involved disconnecting the negative terminal of the battery for ten minutes, using a small wrench I kept in the center console for exactly that purpose.

So maybe that’s the best way to secure our mobile computers: make them unreliable. A friend who’s seen the huge Empire Strikes Back photomural on my wall might correctly guess that my lock screen PIN is 1138 or that my system password is han-shot-first. A thief might be able to work out the PIN based on the smudge spots on the screen. A spy can use software that will brute-force-guess the password. But none of these individuals would ever guess that my phone has an intermittent short that will cause it to reset unless they keep tapping the Volume Down button after waking it.

(Note: those aren’t my real passwords.)

(Note-2: I like my lock screen image.)

17 thoughts on “A Broken Lock Is Secure 100% Of The Time”

  1. Maybe your phone doesn’t like to be woken up so early in the morning. Or it doesn’t believe that wonderful image should be smudged.

  2. As with the rest of the world — I like the screen-lock image too. “Two Thousand More Years!”

  3. This does bring up a question I’ve been asking myself lately. Should I have a lock screen on my phone? I keep one on my iPad, but considering the number of times a day that I pick up and use the phone, I balk at adding that layer of security.

    So the real question is: isn’t there something quicker and just as secure?

    And yes, I love that image too.

  4. Extremely short battery life could also be construed as a security feature. ;-)

    “…made them impossible to operate by anyone other then their owner.”

    I love your writing and read it often, but please don’t succumb to the then-when-you-mean-than plague that is besetting written English of late!

  5. Just because something will be useless to someone doesn’t mean it won’t be stolen, cars being at the difficult end Of the spectrum but a phone is a different thing, I suppose the fear is the data will get miss used but it is still a chore to replace. Btw I used to car that I would guarantee would never aquaplane… It wouldn’t start in the damp…

  6. Regarding note 2 (at the end of the post): When I first came to this page and saw the pic on your lockscreen I paused for a moment and thought how wonderful a picture that is. I sprang back to reality when I realized how most people will just see a couple of old guys hugging. Sad.

  7. As a longtime Apple and iPhone fan like yourself, I’ll be very interested to read your review of the Galaxy S III. Android phones seem to have finally reached the point where the reviews don’t always include the line (written or implied): “Of course, it’s not an iPhone.”

  8. I grew up in New Hampshire a long time ago and we used to trade our cars when the cats started getting through the rusted out floor boards at night to shelter from that brisk New England weather. Nice phone but my T-Mobile Vibrant running Gyanogen Mod to make it work here in sunny Australia hasn’t rusted out yet.

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