A newly published Apple patent presents us with a simple, elegant and convenient method for sharing date securely over mobile devices using … shhh … secret codes. Apple's patent covers sharing information when using social networking applications.
With the proliferation of network enabled mobile devices, such as mobile phones, smart phones, wireless headsets, etc., pairing separate mobile devices becomes more and more common. In particular, mobile devices are often paired to share data, such as personal photos, contacts, play lists, passwords or friendship information for social networking (e.g. Facebook application) etc. Usually, such data sharing requires security protection.
Typical secure data sharing includes an authorization system. Traditionally, an authorization system relies on security mechanisms such as logins, password verifications and/or confirmation mails, etc. For examples, users of mobile phones may need to open applications, go into pairing modes, enter authorization codes, send emails and/or use "add friend" user interface buttons for the mobile phones to share data between each other. However, in a mobile environment, such authorization mechanisms are often tedious and cumbersome to be practically useful.
Therefore, traditional authorization mechanisms do not provide a simple, elegant and convenient method for mobile devices to share data securely.
An embodiment of the present invention includes methods and apparatuses that establish a first communication channel or pair with a target device in proximity to a source device. A pairing message is sent to the target device located in proximity to the source device over the first communication channel from the source device. A secret and/or an identifier associated with an application could be included in the pairing message. In response to receiving the secret back from the target device for a second communication channel, pairing data of the application are sent to the target device over the second communication channel.
In an alternative embodiment, a first communication channel with a source device is established in proximity to the source device. In response to receiving a pairing message from the source device over the first communication channel, an application identified by the pairing message is launched to establish a second communication channel from the application to a remote device according to the pairing message. Pairing data for the application are retrieved from the remote device over the second communication channel. The first communication channel could be a short range IR (Infrared) channel which uses a proximity sensor of each of the source and target devices to create the IR channel, and the second communication channel can be a wireless network such as a WiFi (802.11) or a cellular telephone network or other RF (Radio Frequency) based wireless networks.
According to certain embodiments of the invention, a securing mechanism is provided to authenticate communications between separate devices based on physical pairing. Two devices may be paired when placed close to each other within close proximity to perform authentication via a pairing message (or message-based pairing). Proximity sensors may be employed to ensure physical proximity thus adding a layer of security for pairing. In one embodiment, proximity sensors may include an IR LED (Light Emitting Diode) and/or an IR cell. The proximity sensor could include both an IR transmitter and an IR receiver. For example, two iPhone mobile devices with proximity sensors may detect each others' IR signals when placed face-to-face at about an inch (or less) apart. In one embodiment, two iPhone mobile devices vibrate to confirm pairing (e.g. complete message pairing or device pairing) when placed face to face for a short period of time (e.g. a second or two). Once paired, two applications, e.g. Facebook applications, running separately in two mobile devices may be paired sharing a photo. Typical usage for device pairing may include "pick and go" within seconds.
Apple's patent FIGS. 1A and 1B are block diagrams illustrating an exemplary embodiment of pairing two mobile or portable devices. Exemplary usages may include Web sharing, Bluetooth network sharing, social network sharing, or personal information sharing etc.
Web sharing may be illustrated with user experiences described such as: I'm back from a trip to Vegas, with a great new private MobileMe album." I meet Alex, and I want to share pictures with him. In a photo application on my iPhone device, I push "Instant Share" and hold my iPhone out." Alex switches on his iPhone and holds it against mine." The two phones vibrate after a second or two to signal the completion of the pairing," Alex's phone launches a photo application and starts browsing my MobileMe album. Bluetooth network sharing may include exchanging Bluetooth key over IR signals (or IR pairing) to initiate a regular Bluetooth network connection (or Bluetooth pairing) without tedious user interactions entering network keys.
Social Network Sharing
Social network sharing may be illustrated with user experiences described such as: Jessica and John meet and want to become friends on Facebook. Jessica opens the Facebook application on her iPhone device, chooses "add immediate friend" and holds out her iPhone. John holds his iPhone against Jessica's without even the need to launch the Facebook application. The two iPhone exchange IR data then vibrate or beep to signal the pairing. Jessica sees John on her friends list on her iPhone. John's iPhone launches Facebook application, and when it's done opening, Jessica appears in the application. Personal information sharing may be used to track, authenticate and/or tag a record, such as to authenticate in-person package delivery.
In one embodiment, a secret configuration (or setting) is configured with application identifiers and associated secrets for generating corresponding pairing messages. An application identifier may uniquely identify a single user application in different devices, such a social networking application (#211), or a photo album application (#213) etc. A secret for an application may be understood by its associated application. For example, a secret may be encrypted data including a password, a URL to locate a particular resource (e.g. where to download a photo album or other data from, for example, a server on the Internet), or other data the corresponding application may need.
A password may be required to login into a web server, to make a network connection or to execute other tasks for an application. In some embodiments, a secret includes a randomly generated challenge for authentication. The pairing handler module (#205) may generate a random number on the fly during runtime as a secret (or a part of a secret) for the message formatter module (#203) to compose a pairing message. In one embodiment, a physical movement measuring module (#219), e.g. based on gyroscopic information from an accelerometer, records a trace of physical movements (or motions) and/or generate a representation of the trace on the fly.
In Apple's patent FIG. 6 noted above we see a timing diagram illustrating exemplary sequences to pair a nearby devices located within close proximity. Sequences 600 may be based on mobile devices such as a source device 101 and a target device 115 of FIG. 1A. A sender application 601 may be running in a source device which detects presence of a nearby target device (e.g. portable or stationed). The sender application may present a user interface for a user of the source device to confirm a pairing request with the detected target device. At sequence 609, in response to receiving a user response, the sender application 601 may send secret codes and optional parameters for pairing operations to a sender message module 603. The secret codes (e.g. a password, a random challenger etc.) and options parameters (e.g. URL, network addresses, session identifiers etc.) may be required for pairing operations to pair with the sender application 601.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted above is a block diagram illustrating one example of user interfaces presented for pairing nearby devices located within close proximity. Both devices may include proximity sensors 703 and 709 to enable presence detection when placed in proximity to each other. In one embodiment, both devices are running social network applications as indicated on displays 705 and 713. In one embodiment, once pairing operations are completed, devices 701 and 711 alert users by vibrating the devices and/or giving out special audio tones.
For more details about this in-depth patent, read patent application 20100278345 which was originally filed in Q2 2009. Apple credits Thomas Alsina (Paris, FR), Guy Tribble and Philippe Champeaux (Paris FR) as the inventors of this patent application.
Continuation Patent Applications Published Today
Patently Apple doesn't generally report on old or continued patents, but a number of continuation patents surfaced today that we'll pass along. There were three continuation patents covering "Remotely Locating and Commanding a Mobile Device" under applications 20100279675, 20100279652 and 20100279673. There was another titled "Embedded Access Information for Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) Independent of DVD Player Software" under application 20100278513 and finally one titled "LED Selection for White Point Control in Backlights" which was published under application 20100277410.
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