Technology

Apple CEO Tim Cook loves this hand gesture in photographs


This article is a preview of The Tech Friend newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday.

You might know it as the “V for victory” or the peace sign.

Whatever you call it, Apple CEO Tim Cook does the two-fingered salute everywhere.

He has blared the peace sign on his way into White House dinners and at a 2021 court appearance for a lawsuit that accused Apple of abusing its power.

Cook threw up the two-fingered salute while on a stroll last month at the Sun Valley, Idaho, gathering of corporate and finance titans. He did the peace sign pose at the same event in 2021 and 2019, too.

What Cook does with his hands is unimportant. And I don’t know why Cook flashes the two-fingered sign. Maybe it’s a habit he does without thinking. (Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

But hey, it’s a summer Friday and the world is burning. Why not hash over a tiny, low-stakes mystery about Apple’s CEO?

Going deeper, Cook’s repeated two-finger salute adds a dose of humanity to one of the world’s most powerful business leaders.

When well-known people have romantic troubles, wait in line at Starbucks or lean on verbal or gestural habits, it makes them a little more relatable. Stars, they’re just like us.

A short history of the V sign

The index and middle fingers raised in a V sign has a long and varied track record.

The British leader Winston Churchill used it to rally his country to win World War II. Americans opposed to the Vietnam War used the gesture as an antiwar symbol in the 1960s and beyond.

It has been used by authoritarian leaders including former president of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos. (His son, the current president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., flashes the V sign, too.)

It’s also been used as a symbol against dictators, including by people protesting regimes in Iran and Egypt.

K-pop stars flash the V sign to paparazzi. Beyoncé has posed giving the peace sign, too.

Laura Miller, a specialist in Japanese culture and linguistic anthropology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, said the contemporary practice of making the V sign when posing for photographs originated with young women in Japan starting in the 1980s.

The two-fingered gesture is now so common in East Asia that “it is stripped of any specific meaning and is simply the nonverbal equivalent of saying ‘cheese,’” Miller said.

Giving the peace sign might be the only thing that the buttoned-up Apple CEO has in common with K-pop celebrities.

Uhhh, is Cook’s habit a security threat?

Some cybersecurity experts have warned that hackers can re-create people’s fingerprints from photos.

So might criminals use all those photos of Cook’s peace digits to make replica fingers?

Chester Wisniewski, a digital security specialist with the firm Sophos, said it’s plausible but too stupid to be likely.

A 50-megapixel photo of someone a few yards from the lens “could reveal a moderately detailed fingerprint,” he said. “To what end? Not much.”

If crooks wanted to impersonate Cook by re-creating his fingerprint to unlock an iPhone or Mac, for example, Wisniewski said they would need to have his physical phone or computer, too.

He said a duplicate fingerprint (or replica face) on their own aren’t much use to bad guys.

“If I steal your iPhone and need to unlock it with your face I will probably just hold you at knife point and use the one attached to you, not make a new one,” Wisniewski said.

Passwords are dumb. Pass phrases are better.

The watchdog for the Interior Department wrote this week in The Washington Post that his office cracked more than one out of every five passwords used inside the government agency.

That included passwords for senior officials and technology specialists whose computer credentials unlock access to high-value information.

The Interior Department found the same problem that my colleagues and I have written about: Most of us are terrible at creating and remembering passwords. So we rely on unsafe ones like “Password-1234,” the most commonly used password found at the Interior Department.

One suggestion from the government watchdog that applies to you and me: If you can, use memorable strings of words as your passwords. Aim for 16 characters or more.

Try mushing together four words into nonsense like “TumblerElbowMerinoWoodpecker.” If you like nursery rhymes, try the password, “L1ttleMi$sMuffetSatOnATuffet,” with a number and symbol replacing a couple of letters.

Not every online account lets you set up pass phrases like that, because of requirements derived from obsolete government security guidelines.

The structural problem is that our whole system of online passwords is unsafe and burdensome. We should root for an emerging technology called passkeys that could slowly replace online passwords with other methods of verifying we are who we say.

Read more: Everything you’ve been told about passwords is a lie