Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Risk

4/20/2011
02:29 PM
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

iPhone Software Tracks Location Of Users

Apple's iOS 4 operating system collects information about where iPhone users travel, two programmers revealed at the Where 2.0 conference.

Apple's iPhone software is storing a record of the travels of iPhone owners on their phones and on the computers used for iPhone synchronization, a practice that has renewed privacy concerns about mobile location tracking.

The data, consisting of latitude and longitude coordinates and corresponding timestamps, is stored unencrypted and, apparently, without conspicuous notification. Apple did not respond to a request to explain whether any of its user agreements cover this practice.

The existence of the iPhone tracking database was disclosed on Wednesday at the Where 2.0 conference by Alasdair Allan, an iPhone programmer and a senior research fellow in Astronomy at the University of Exeter, and Pete Warden, founder of OpenHeatMap.com and a former Apple software engineer.

French blogger Paul Coubis appears to have been the first to report this issue last year, though his findings didn't attract much attention.

Apple's storage of iPhone user location data began with the arrival of iOS 4. Allan and Warden speculate that Apple began storing the data because it would be useful for the background location and geofencing capabilities in iOS 4.

Apple's actions may result in litigation because its data collection is similar in some respects to what Google was doing when it unwittingly allowed its Street View cars to collect information from open Wi-Fi networks without disclosure. While Apple's software is not collecting actual packet data traveling over Wi-Fi as Google did, it is recording the MAC addresses of Wi-Fi access points near the iPhone owner being tracked.

Allan and Warden have written and posted an open source Mac OS X application to provide Mac-using iPhone users with a way to examine their stored location data trail.

While both men believe Apple should have disclosed what it was doing more clearly, they say there's no reason to be alarmed because the data remains in the user's possession and isn't disclosed. But they do recommend that users encrypt the data through the "Encrypt iPhone Backup" setting under the "Options" menu in iTunes.

Mobile service providers already have this information. German Green party politician Malte Spitz recently made waves in Germany when he obtained and published data from Deutsche Telekom that detailed his movements.

While location data isn't generally available without a court order--unless deliberately disclosed through some social location service--there are still legal battles being fought to make sure that constitutionally-guaranteed privacy protections safeguard data on mobile phones.

Now that iPhone users are known to carry detailed histories of where they've been on their phones and on their computers, those in an adversarial position--litigious spouses or employers, or law enforcement personnel, for example--may choose to seek location data where it is readily accessible rather than attempting to pry it from a mobile service provider through legal process.

If it's any consolation, Allan and Warden said that a lot of the data is inaccurate.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Commentary
Ransomware Is Not the Problem
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
Edge-DRsplash-11-edge-ask-the-experts
How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
News
New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This gives a new meaning to blind leading the blind.
Current Issue
The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-21441
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-16
There is a XSS vulnerability in the ticket overview screens. It's possible to collect various information by having an e-mail shown in the overview screen. Attack can be performed by sending specially crafted e-mail to the system and it doesn't require any user intraction. This issue affects: OTRS A...
CVE-2020-9493
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-16
A deserialization flaw was found in Apache Chainsaw versions prior to 2.1.0 which could lead to malicious code execution.
CVE-2021-28815
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-16
Insecure storage of sensitive information has been reported to affect QNAP NAS running myQNAPcloud Link. If exploited, this vulnerability allows remote attackers to read sensitive information by accessing the unrestricted storage mechanism. This issue affects: QNAP Systems Inc. myQNAPcloud Link vers...
CVE-2021-3535
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-16
Rapid7 Nexpose is vulnerable to a non-persistent cross-site scripting vulnerability affecting the Security Console's Filtered Asset Search feature. A specific search criterion and operator combination in Filtered Asset Search could have allowed a user to pass code through the provided search field. ...
CVE-2021-32685
PUBLISHED: 2021-06-16
tEnvoy contains the PGP, NaCl, and PBKDF2 in node.js and the browser (hashing, random, encryption, decryption, signatures, conversions), used by TogaTech.org. In versions prior to 7.0.3, the `verifyWithMessage` method of `tEnvoyNaClSigningKey` always returns `true` for any signature that has a SHA-5...