Airtag clones can sidestep Apple anti-stalker tech

Open source + public key generation = no alerts, says infosec startup


An infosec startup says it has built an Apple Airtag clone that bypasses anti-stalking protection features while running on Apple's Find My protocol.

Source code for the clones were published online by Berlin-based infosec startup Positive Security (not to be confused with US-sanctioned cybersecurity outfit Positive Technologies), which said its tags "successfully tracked an iPhone user... for over five days without triggering a tracking notification."

The user consented, added Positive's Fabian Bräunlein in a blog post explaining his findings.

"In particular," said Bräunlein, "Apple needs to incorporate non-genuine AirTags into their threat model, thus implementing security and anti-stalking features into the Find My protocol and ecosystem instead of in the AirTag itself, which can run modified firmware or not be an AirTag at all."

The findings suggest that Apple's claims of the Find My protocol being "built with privacy in mind" fall short of the mark, with Positive Security spoofing the protocol by having an open-source device broadcast "2,000 preloaded public keys" as a way of fooling some anti-stalking protections.

The proof-of-concept device was kept with a volunteer user for five days, during which time it did not show on Apple's Tracker Detect app – while "location reports for the broadcasted public keys were uploaded and could be retrieved."

Airtags, originally conceived as a way of keeping track of luggage and similar portable items through Apple's Find My app, have been abused by stalkers in the past. Miscreants would drop Airtags into victims' bags or attach them to cars and then use the Find My app to view their precise locations.

Anti-stalking protections were hastily introduced by Apple recently; Airtags are supposed to sound an audible alarm and also send notifications to nearby iPhones announcing their presence.

This doesn't work with non-Apple phones, although Apple released an Android app capable of picking up these broadcasts. The BBC described Airtags last month as "a perfect tool for stalking."

In a 10 February statement Apple declared it was tightening up privacy protections in Airtags, adding "we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products."

Airtag spoofing has also spawned an open source project called OpenHaystack, which is described on its GitHub page as "an application that allows you to create your own accessories that are tracked by Apple's Find My network."

While the use cases presented by the project's creators (Technical University of Darmstadt) are benign, the Find My protocol (which operates over Bluetooth Low Energy) appears straightforward for unofficial devices to piggyback off.

It is unclear if Apple will look at the Find My protocol itself rather than tinkering around the edges with the proprietary devices it deploys to use that protocol. We've asked Apple for comment. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Quantum internet within grasp as scientists show off entanglement demo
    Teleportation of quantum information key to future secure data transfer

    Researchers in the Netherlands have shown they can transmit quantum information via an intermediary node, a feature necessary to make the so-called quantum internet possible.

    In recent years, scientists have argued that the quantum internet presents a more desirable network for transferring secure data, in addition to being necessary when connecting multiple quantum systems. All of this has been attracting investment from the US government, among others.

    Despite the promise, there are still vital elements missing for the creation of a functional quantum internet.

    Continue reading
  • Drone ship carrying yet more drones launches in China
    Zhuhai Cloud will carry 50 flying and diving machines it can control with minimal human assistance

    Chinese academics have christened an ocean research vessel that has a twist: it will sail the seas with a complement of aerial and ocean-going drones and no human crew.

    The Zhu Hai Yun, or Zhuhai Cloud, launched in Guangzhou after a year of construction. The 290-foot-long mothership can hit a top speed of 18 knots (about 20 miles per hour) and will carry 50 flying, surface, and submersible drones that launch and self-recover autonomously. 

    According to this blurb from the shipbuilder behind its construction, the Cloud will also be equipped with a variety of additional observational instruments "which can be deployed in batches in the target sea area, and carry out task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional view of specific targets." Most of the ship is an open deck where flying drones can land and be stored. The ship is also equipped with launch and recovery equipment for its aquatic craft. 

    Continue reading
  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading
  • Cloud security unicorn cuts 20% of staff after raising $1.3b
    Time to play blame bingo: Markets? Profits? Too much growth? Russia? Space aliens?

    Cloud security company Lacework has laid off 20 percent of its employees, just months after two record-breaking funding rounds pushed its valuation to $8.3 billion.

    A spokesperson wouldn't confirm the total number of employees affected, though told The Register that the "widely speculated number on Twitter is a significant overestimate."

    The company, as of March, counted more than 1,000 employees, which would push the jobs lost above 200. And the widely reported number on Twitter is about 300 employees. The biz, based in Silicon Valley, was founded in 2015.

    Continue reading
  • Talos names eight deadly sins in widely used industrial software
    Entire swaths of gear relies on vulnerability-laden Open Automation Software (OAS)

    A researcher at Cisco's Talos threat intelligence team found eight vulnerabilities in the Open Automation Software (OAS) platform that, if exploited, could enable a bad actor to access a device and run code on a targeted system.

    The OAS platform is widely used by a range of industrial enterprises, essentially facilitating the transfer of data within an IT environment between hardware and software and playing a central role in organizations' industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) efforts. It touches a range of devices, including PLCs and OPCs and IoT devices, as well as custom applications and APIs, databases and edge systems.

    Companies like Volvo, General Dynamics, JBT Aerotech and wind-turbine maker AES are among the users of the OAS platform.

    Continue reading
  • Despite global uncertainty, $500m hit doesn't rattle Nvidia execs
    CEO acknowledges impact of war, pandemic but says fundamentals ‘are really good’

    Nvidia is expecting a $500 million hit to its global datacenter and consumer business in the second quarter due to COVID lockdowns in China and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite those and other macroeconomic concerns, executives are still optimistic about future prospects.

    "The full impact and duration of the war in Ukraine and COVID lockdowns in China is difficult to predict. However, the impact of our technology and our market opportunities remain unchanged," said Jensen Huang, Nvidia's CEO and co-founder, during the company's first-quarter earnings call.

    Those two statements might sound a little contradictory, including to some investors, particularly following the stock selloff yesterday after concerns over Russia and China prompted Nvidia to issue lower-than-expected guidance for second-quarter revenue.

    Continue reading
  • Another AI supercomputer from HPE: Champollion lands in France
    That's the second in a week following similar system in Munich also aimed at researchers

    HPE is lifting the lid on a new AI supercomputer – the second this week – aimed at building and training larger machine learning models to underpin research.

    Based at HPE's Center of Excellence in Grenoble, France, the new supercomputer is to be named Champollion after the French scholar who made advances in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 19th century. It was built in partnership with Nvidia using AMD-based Apollo computer nodes fitted with Nvidia's A100 GPUs.

    Champollion brings together HPC and purpose-built AI technologies to train machine learning models at scale and unlock results faster, HPE said. HPE already provides HPC and AI resources from its Grenoble facilities for customers, and the broader research community to access, and said it plans to provide access to Champollion for scientists and engineers globally to accelerate testing of their AI models and research.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022