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

4/22/2011
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
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 8/10/2020
Researcher Finds New Office Macro Attacks for MacOS
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  8/7/2020
Exploiting Google Cloud Platform With Ease
Dark Reading Staff 8/6/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-8720
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
Buffer overflow in a subsystem for some Intel(R) Server Boards, Server Systems and Compute Modules before version 1.59 may allow a privileged user to potentially enable denial of service via local access.
CVE-2020-12300
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
Uninitialized pointer in BIOS firmware for Intel(R) Server Board Families S2600CW, S2600KP, S2600TP, and S2600WT may allow a privileged user to potentially enable escalation of privilege via local access.
CVE-2020-12301
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
Improper initialization in BIOS firmware for Intel(R) Server Board Families S2600ST, S2600BP and S2600WF may allow a privileged user to potentially enable escalation of privilege via local access.
CVE-2020-7307
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
Unprotected Storage of Credentials vulnerability in McAfee Data Loss Prevention (DLP) for Mac prior to 11.5.2 allows local users to gain access to the RiskDB username and password via unprotected log files containing plain text credentials.
CVE-2020-8679
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
Out-of-bounds write in Kernel Mode Driver for some Intel(R) Graphics Drivers before version 26.20.100.7755 may allow an authenticated user to potentially enable denial of service via local access.