Saturday, April 23, 2011

An explanation of Apple's iOS tracking fiasco

On Wednesday of last week, reports were being released by various journalists that iOS was tracking devices. The report issued first by two security researchers named Peter Warden and Alasdair Allan. They discovered that Apple devices running Apple's current mobile operating system, iOS 4 such as the iPad and iPhone, were being tracked through the wireless provider's cell towers through a process called triangulation. This process gives moderately accurate location data based on where the device is within three cell towers. This isn't perfect technology, but it works well enough. Simply stated, the possibility now exists that anyone can track you or your device.

These researchers found that the device running iOS 4 was being tracked and the data was being saved in a database file, in an unencrypted, or unsecured form, which means that anyone who had access to your computer or device could access and read the data.

This database file had the location data in the form of longitude-latitude and anyone with the right mind or the right software, could use that data to get a relative location of where the device has been. The concern was at first, rather low. However, later on, an application for Apple's Mac OS X computers could allow someone to make a map of the location data through this application. Of course, this scared the living daylights out of people, arguably unnecessarily, which I will talk about next.

Is it worth it to be concerned?

This is the big question journalists and big media types have been asking. Unfortunately, the answer is not clear yet, as Apple has not commented (at least not at the point of this post) on this issue. If Apple does come out of hiding and comments on the matter, then we can be a little more certain about whether or not this is worth being concerned about. From my point of view, I would only be concerned if hackers start using this "feature." Hackers are smart and they know how to get around obstacles. I am slightly concerned because of the fact that there are no obstacles for hackers currently. I'm not as concerned about the government having this data because they might have a proper reason for having location data about one's device. Of course, it might not always be necessary or a good idea for the government to have location data, because it is easy for anyone to abuse the use of this data, it would still be not as dangerous as hackers having this data. Since the government has a little sense of morality, they could have the location data for the right reasons. Hackers are a whole another story. They have no moral compass. They do as they please, how they please, when they please. They do not care the tiniest bit who was affected or how they were affected.

With that in mind, it is still important to understand that Apple has not commented yet on this issue. All we can do is hope. It is also important to note that Android also has this capability, and that third-party applications can get a hold of location data, but it's much more obvious, and Android itself does not record and store this data.

Before you freak out any further, keep in mind that the iPod Touch is not being tracked because it does not have 3G cellular connectivity and it does not have a GPS receiver in it.

1 comment:

  1. Wow... From the first two paragraphs i read, you sound so professional!

    Oh, and I think you should add some pics or visuals cause after the first half of this post my eyes started to hurt and I lost my place in the review.