iOS TrackerGate: Not New, But Still Disturbing

The technical and non-technical press is buzzing over the “discovery” by a forensic researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden. The revelations are not new, but the implications are still very disturbing.

Yesterday, Allan and Warden released a an application that uses an interesting plain-text file on 3G iPhones and iPads.  This file contains the geo location of where the device (and presumably it’s owner) has been.  The application blots the geo data onto a map, allowed one to see the travels and location of the device, and it’s owner.

The non-technical press has taken this story as a revelation.  Both the Wall Street Journal radio report out of the Bay Area (on KSFOAM) and The BBC World Service have been running this story all morning. Alex Levinson is a forensic researcher that has correctly pointed out that work by Allan and Warden did not credit the earlier research done by Alex, and others, in this area. Indeed, in a The CyberJungle posting from the Paraben Forensic Innovator’s Conference (PFIC) in Park City, UT last November, we reported the mountains of data that can be recovered from iOS devices.

The privacy implications of this data becoming available to in a civil lawsuit, or in a criminal matter, are quiet significant. Everything from visits to a mental health provider, a controversial art exhibit, a winery,  or a discreet meeting with an ex lover could become open to unwanted scrutiny.  It’s difficult to predict how the information regarding someone’s whereabouts could be used to harm an individual in a civil or criminal matter. We already have privacy challenges with the proliferation of closed circuit television (CCTV), and the ability to correlate the data with iOS geo data becomes an enormously powerful investigative tool.

Interestingly, yesterday also saw reports that Michigan law enforcement  maybe taking complete “in the field” forensic images of mobile devices from some drivers during routine traffic stops.  This revelation should cause any citizen to take a pause, as it has the Michigan ACLU.

What are some of the techniques the average citizen can use to add layers of privacy, and still use a mobile phone, or tablet?  We plan more coverage of this story in the next episode of CyberJungle Radio (episode 210), including options to help mitigate these privacy leaks.

by Ira Victor, G2700, GCFA, GPCI, GSEC, ISACA-CGEIT. Ira Victor is a forensic analyst with Data Clone Labs, He is also Co-Host of CyberJungle Radio, the news and talk on security, privacy and the law. Ira is President of Sierra-Nevada InfraGard, and a member of The High Tech Crime Investigator’s Association (HTCIA). Follow Ira’s security and forensics tweets: @ira_victor .


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