March 29, 2009

iPhones Can Protect Your Warcraft Account, and Someday Much More

By Daniel J. Pritchett of Sharing at Work (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Two recent iPhone stories highlight some interesting potential for Apple's iPhone and iPod family.  First up is WoW Insider's announcement of a free iPhone Authenticator available in the app store for securing World of Warcraft accounts.  A user is typically a World of Warcraft player but the accounts can be tied to any Blizzard game you might own, including their future releases.

As shown in the screen shot on the left, the Authenticator program generates a new string of numbers once every minute or so.  Once a player links the authenticator to an account, these numbers must be supplied along with a user name and password at each login — a two-factor authentication challenge.  This iPhone app is an alternative to the existing solution where gamers can pay Blizzard $7 for a key fob that generates a similar passkey every time its button is pushed.

World of Warcraft characters and items are regularly hijacked via targeted trojans and keyloggers.  They can be stripped bare in a matter of minutes, their contents flipped quickly for tens or even hundreds of dollars on WoW's thriving grey market.  Given the time and effort involved in securing an account rollback from Blizzard customer service, many players will opt for the peace of mind granted them by this new application.

The next iPhone may read fingerprints and retinas

The second tidbit comes from Apple Insider (via Engadget): An Apple patent filling hints at fingerprint and retina scanning potential in future iPhones. Apple is researching the potential for embedding biometric scanning devices (cameras, etc.) behind the touch screen of an iPhone.  Such enhanced iPhones would allow for secure identification in order to unlock the phone itself.  These enhancements would also allow the iPhone to serve as an easily obtainable high-powered authenticator for other systems such as Blizzard's  While we might only imagine such tools as being necessary for sensitive operations like banking or remote logins to corporate intranets, the Blizzard app demonstrates that it can be cost effective to secure our less critical digital holdings.

The Blizzard authenticator is a great example of high-powered security applications that the iPhone family can provide right now, and the recent patent filing by Apple gives us insight into other uses for tomorrow's iPhone.  We'll certainly have the mobile available as an ever-more-secure authentication tool, but we'll also be able to use it as a remote sensor for home and office medical purposes such as the recently promised glucose monitor or a biometrically secured retail barcode scanner.  There are undoubtedly more possibilities than I can come up with on my own, and I look forward to seeing some of them becoming reality in the near future.  If you've got a great example of alternate uses for mobile phones, please share it in a comment!

Read more by Daniel J. Pritchett at Sharing at Work