I’m not sure how this happened, but somewhere among all the iPhone 3GS hoopla, I forgot that it included an encryption chip. This is awesome news because it means that Apple can (and does) encrypt all data on the 3GS. It also means that remotely wiping the data (possible via several methods, see the Enterprise Deployment Guide [PDF] for details) happens very quickly. A remote wipe simply deletes (and writes over) the encryption key. The estimates I’ve seen range from 30 to 60 seconds. Once the encryption key is gone, nothing on the hard drive is accessible and the phone is, for all intents and purposes, useless.
The 3G also has a remote wipe feature but it lacks the encryption chip. This means the remote wipe takes considerably longer. Apple estimates one hour per 8GB (see the Enterprise Deployment Guide, p. 9). That’s a massive time difference when you’re dealing with a missing iPhone carrying HIPPA or credit card information.
I’m not able to upgrade my iPhone to a 3GS for at least another year. But you can bet, once I can, I will. The hardware encryption, by itself, makes the 3GS an attractive upgrade.
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