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Developers demand Apple API solution for parental control apps

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What Apple’s latest acquisitions mean for the company
TechRepublic’s Karen Roby asks ZDNet’s David Gewirtz for his thoughts on the companies Apple has acquired in the past year and the future implications these additions bring to the table. Read more: https://zd.net/2WvDYul

Developers have banded together to demand that Apple develop an API which will allow the parental control app market to continue in the iOS ecosystem.

The trouble began in April when a report appeared that the iPad and iPhone maker was deliberately removing parental control applications from the App Store to squash competition in favor of its own services.

The New York Times said that Apple had either removed or restricted 11 out of the 17 most popular parental control apps at the time, forcing some developers to close down their software altogether.

Parental control apps are used to monitor child devices, keep an eye on — and restrict, if necessary — their screen time, as well as check what content a child is accessing and who they are in contact with.

Apple offers Screen Time and usage limit tools, introduced in iOS 12. However, the company has refuted the allegation that removing the apps were intended to stifle competition; instead, the tech giant pointed at the widespread use of Mobile Device Management (MDM) software in the removed or restricted apps.

MDM is a remote access tool for providing external control over a device which has an MDM-supporting app installed. MDM not only gives third-parties the avenue to tamper with a device but also access a wide range of user information.

CNET: Your next iPhone or Mac? WWDC offers the best tease

When it comes to child monitoring, you can understand why MDM was used. However, remote access and MDM also comes very close to the functions of spyware, and so usage can “put users’ privacy and security at risk,” Apple said.

Now unable to use MDM if they wish to host their software in the App Store, parental control app developers have asked for a technical solution. As reported by The Verge, a group of developers have set up a website and have also released technical API specifications in the hopes that a suitable alternative will be found.

“There’s an obvious solution and it’s one that developers have been calling for from the start,” the developers say. “Apple should release a public API granting developers access to the same functionalities that Apple’s native “Screen Time” uses.”

The technical specifications for the API make use of Screen Time, but the developers say the API will also allow apps to be created which “go beyond iOS Screen Time functionality, to address parental concerns about social media use, child privacy, effective content filtering across all browsers and apps and more.”

TechRepublic: How to become an iOS developer: A cheat sheet

The proposed API is a cross-platform effort which could potentially be used for iOS, MacOS, and tvOS applications. In a limited form, the API could be used to generate usage events, without revealing “more information than is necessary,” and it has also been proposed that the API could integrate with existing APIs for monitoring network activity.

See also: Unsecured database exposes 85GB in security logs of major hotel chains

While Apple may not agree to release an API too similar to its homebrew service, the company, ahead of WWDC, has a task ahead of it to satisfy developers.

It was only this week that the tech giant launched a PR campaign designed to quell criticism of the App Store and the idea that Apple deliberately stamps out the competition.

ZDNet has reached out to Apple and will update if we hear back. 

Previous and related coverage


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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications

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Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.

Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection

“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”

In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.

A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.

Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.

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When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?

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DevOps’ general aim is to enable a more efficient process for producing software and technology solutions and bringing stakeholders together to speed up delivery. But we know from experience that this inherently creative, outcome-driven approach often forgets about one thing until too late in the process—security. Too often, security is brought into the timeline just before deployment, risking last minute headaches and major delays. The security team is pushed into being the Greek chorus of the process, “ruining everyone’s fun” by demanding changes and slowing things down.

But as we know, in the complex, multi-cloud and containerized environment we find ourselves in, security is becoming more important and challenging than ever. And the costs of security failure are not only measured in slower deployment, but in compliance breaches and reputational damage.

The term “DevSecOps” has been coined to characterize how security needs to be at the heart of the DevOps process. This is in part principle and part tools. As a principle, DevSecOps fits with the concept of “shifting left,” that is, ensuring that security is treated as early as possible in the development process. So far, so simple.

From a tooling perspective, however, things get more complicated, not least because the market has seen a number of platforms marketing themselves as DevSecOps. As we have been writing our Key Criteria report on the subject, we have learned that not all DevSecOps vendors are necessarily DevSecOps vendors. Specifically, we have learned to distinguish capabilities that directly enable the goals of DevSecOps from a process perspective, from those designed to support DevSecOps practices. We could define them as: “Those that do, and those that help.”

This is how to tell the two types of vendor apart and how to use them.

Vendors Enabling DevSecOps: “Tools That Do”

A number of tools work to facilitate the DevSecOps process -– let’s bite the bullet and call them DevSecOps tools. They help teams set out each stage of software development, bringing siloed teams together behind a unified vision that allows fast, high-quality development, with security considerations at its core. DevSecOps tools work across the development process, for example:

  • Create: Help to set and implement policy
  • Develop: Apply guidance to the process and aid its implementation
  • Test: Facilitate and guide security testing procedures
  • Deploy: Provide reports to assure confidence to deploy the application

The key element that sets these tool sets apart is the ability to automate and reduce friction within the development process. They will prompt action, stop a team from moving from one stage to another if the process has not adequately addressed security concerns, and guide the roadmap for the development from start to finish.

Supporting DevSecOps: “Tools That Help”

In this category we place those tools which aid the execution, and monitoring, of good DevSecOps principles. Security scanning and application/infrastructure hardening tools are a key element of these processes: Software composition analysis (SCA) forms a part of the development stage, static/dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) is integral to the test stage and runtime app protection (RASP) is a key to the Deploy stage.

Tools like this are a vital part of the security layer of security tooling, especially just before deployment – and they often come with APIs so they can be plugged into the CI/CD process. However, while these capabilities are very important to DevSecOps, they can be seen in more of a supporting role, rather than being DevSecOps tools per se.

DevSecOps-washing is not a good idea for the enterprise

While one might argue that security should never have been shifted right, DevSecOps exists to ensure that security best practices take place across the development lifecycle. A corollary exists to the idea of “tools that help,” namely that organizations implementing these tools are not “doing DevSecOps,” any more than vendors providing these tools are DevSecOps vendors.

The only way to “do” DevSecOps is to fully embrace security at a process management and governance level: This means assessing risk, defining policy, setting review gates, and disallowing progress for insecure deliverables. Organizations that embrace DevSecOps can get help from what we are calling DevSecOps tools, as well as from scanning and hardening tools that help support its goals.

At the end of the day, all security and governance boils down to risk: If you buy a scanning tool so you can check a box that says “DevSecOps,” you are potentially adding to your risk posture, rather than mitigating it. So, get your DevSecOps strategy fixed first, then consider how you can add automation, visibility, and control using “tools that do,” as well as benefit from “tools that help.”

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High Performance Application Security Testing

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research. It is hosted by an expert in Application and API testing, and GigaOm analyst, Jake Dolezal. His presentation will focus on the results of high performance testing we completed against two security mechanisms: ModSecurity on NGINX and NGINX App Protect. Additionally, we tested the AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) as a fully managed security offering.

While performance is important, it is only one criterion for a Web Application Firewall selection. The results of the report are revealing about these platforms. The methodology will be shown with clarity and transparency on how you might replicate these tests to mimic your own workloads and requirements.

Register now to join GigaOm and sponsor NGINX for this free expert webinar.

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