How Apple's iWatch could revolutionize mobile security

The iWatch is meant to tether to an iPhone or iPad -- a setup that could allow the iWatch to serve as a security token for advanced authentication

Expectations for Apple to release an iWatch reached a new pitch yesterday as Bloomberg reported that such a device could have much higher profit margins than the company's iPad line up and its rumored HDTV.

Apple has filed 79 patents that relate to wearable technology and are generally expected to be part of its iWatch effort. Reports also indicate that the company has a team of 100 people working on the iWatch project that includes engineers, design experts, and marketing professionals.

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Reports about the iWatch indicate that it would be tethered to an iPhone or iPad that would provide a stream of content and alerts to the wearer, including email, caller ID, calendar info, and updates of pre-selected information like weather reports or stock quotes. All of these ideas are present in existing smartwatches coming to market, including the Pebble watch that can pair with an iPhone or Android phone. Many are also anticipated uses for Google Glass, which is expected to ship by the end of the year, just like the iWatch.

All of these capabilities, while not designed for the business market, have some direct business potential. The updates that can be displayed on an iWatch are often the updates that professionals across many industries check repeatedly throughout the day. Having that information update in an unobtrusive way on a wearable device would allow workers to check notifications in real time without disrupting a meeting -- or even a casual conversation -- by pulling out their phone and unlocking it.

While distraction-free meetings are a big business innovation for an iWatch, they're relatively small compared to what such a device could mean in terms of data security. In fact, an iWatch could be the perfect solution to many IT concerns about mobile devices.

The key to the iWatch as a security solution is that it would be designed to pair with a mobile device, most likely an iPhone. That pairing offers an easy way to set up advanced authentication. The iWatch could replace a passcode on an iPhone or iPad (or even a MacBook or PC notebook). If the iWatch is in range, the iOS device could unlock without a passcode, saving users a few seconds.

More dramatically, the iWatch could be used as a physical security token alongside a passcode to offer multifactor authentication. If the iWatch isn't detected by the device, then it would remain locked even after the user (or someone who has found or stolen it) enters the correct passcode.

More importantly, an iOS device could be configured not just to lock itself and prevent unlock attempts when it no longer detects an iWatch, but also to wipe all data (or all corporate data). It could even be designed to send an alert to Apple's Find My iPhone component of iCloud or to a company's Exchange or mobile management server. That could help ensure sensitive data is securely erased and/or aid in recovering the device.

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