Risk
4/22/2011
12:52 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
50%
50%

So What If iPhones Spy User Locations

The iPhone keeps track on its owner's whereabouts, but without that crucial location data, many services that help make the smartphone so popular wouldn't function.

There’s been a considerable amount of hullabaloo about how Apple's iPhone stores a record of the travels of its owner and on the system they use for synchronization. The data, according to Thomas Claburn’s story iPhone Software Tracks Location Of Users, is latitude and longitude coordinates and their corresponding timestamps. The data is stored in an unencrypted file on the computer and the iPhone.

I have a hard time getting worked up about this. First, location data is crucial for popular services such as “Find My iPhone,” and the many, many applications that depend on accurate location data to work. That’s the only way they can find the best sushi restaurant close to you, report your location to your favorite social media, or know the nearest theater with the movie you want to see. You get the idea.

Of course, these applications have logs. All of your computing devices pretty much log everything you do.

Second, many companies have this type of data. Many newer car models track everywhere the owner goes. Your credit card company, bank, and debit card provider knows everywhere you travel and everything you buy--unless you are one of the few who pay for everything in cash. Also, let’s not overlook the fact that mobile phone network providers have all of this data, and many of them hold it for unknown lengths of time.

And, it appears, phones based on the Android operating system do the same thing, essentially. The location information is stored in files named cache.cell and cache.wifi.

These are locally stored files, and if any data is sent to Apple--best I’ve been able to determine--the data is anonymized and used to build a location database of Wi-Fi hotspots.

And, the fact is, Apple has already responded to government inquiries about its location tracking abilities.

The fact that Apple has already answered these questions didn't stop Senator Al Franken from sending a letter to Steve Jobs, asking about "serious privacy concerns."

Franken wrote:

"I read with concern a recent report by security researchers that Apple's iOS 4 operating system is secretly compiling its customers' location data in a file stored on iPhones, 3G iPads, and every computer that users used to "sync" their devices."

And all of this over a locally stored database file, while real Fourth Amendment concerns, such as exactly what the state of Michigan is doing with their mobile phone forensic devices during traffic stops, doesn't get a quarter of the same outrage:

The Michigan State Police have a high-tech mobile forensics device that can be used to extract information from cell phones belonging to motorists stopped for minor traffic violations. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan last Wednesday demanded that state officials stop stonewalling freedom of information requests for information on the program.

Should Apple encrypt the files? Yes? Should the logs probably be cleared in a shorter period of time than a year? I think so. Is this as big of a deal as it's been made out to be? I don’t think so.

If this concerns you, encrypt your iPhone and encrypt your iPhone backups within iTunes.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2013-6501
Published: 2015-03-30
The default soap.wsdl_cache_dir setting in (1) php.ini-production and (2) php.ini-development in PHP through 5.6.7 specifies the /tmp directory, which makes it easier for local users to conduct WSDL injection attacks by creating a file under /tmp with a predictable filename that is used by the get_s...

CVE-2014-9652
Published: 2015-03-30
The mconvert function in softmagic.c in file before 5.21, as used in the Fileinfo component in PHP before 5.4.37, 5.5.x before 5.5.21, and 5.6.x before 5.6.5, does not properly handle a certain string-length field during a copy of a truncated version of a Pascal string, which might allow remote atta...

CVE-2014-9653
Published: 2015-03-30
readelf.c in file before 5.22, as used in the Fileinfo component in PHP before 5.4.37, 5.5.x before 5.5.21, and 5.6.x before 5.6.5, does not consider that pread calls sometimes read only a subset of the available data, which allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (uninitialized memory ...

CVE-2014-9705
Published: 2015-03-30
Heap-based buffer overflow in the enchant_broker_request_dict function in ext/enchant/enchant.c in PHP before 5.4.38, 5.5.x before 5.5.22, and 5.6.x before 5.6.6 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code via vectors that trigger creation of multiple dictionaries.

CVE-2014-9709
Published: 2015-03-30
The GetCode_ function in gd_gif_in.c in GD 2.1.1 and earlier, as used in PHP before 5.5.21 and 5.6.x before 5.6.5, allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (buffer over-read and application crash) via a crafted GIF image that is improperly handled by the gdImageCreateFromGif function.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Good hackers--aka security researchers--are worried about the possible legal and professional ramifications of President Obama's new proposed crackdown on cyber criminals.