Bluetooth Vulnerability Could Allow iOS and macOS Devices Be Tracked and Identified

A security vulnerability in the Bluetooth communication protocol has the potential to allow malicious actors to track and identify devices from Apple and Microsoft, according to new research from Boston University that was highlighted by ZDNet.

Apple devices including Macs, iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch are impacted, as are Microsoft tablets and laptops. Android devices are not affected.


As outlined in the research paper [PDF], Bluetooth devices use public channels to announce their presence to other devices.

To prevent tracking, most devices broadcast a randomized address that periodically changes rather than a Media Access Control (MAC) address, but the researchers have found that it is possible to extract identifying tokens that allow a device to be tracked even when this randomized address changes by exploiting the address-carryover algorithm.

We present an online algorithm called the address-carryover algorithm, which exploits the fact that identifying tokens and the random address do not change in sync, to continuously track a device despite implementing anonymization measures. To our knowledge, this approach affects all Windows 10, iOS, and macOS devices.

The algorithm does not require message decryption or breaking Bluetooth security in any way, as it is based entirely on public, unencrypted advertising traffic.

The tracking method explained in the research paper has the potential to allow for an identity-exposing attack that allows for "permanent, non-continuous tracking," plus an iOS side-channel that "allows insights into user activity."

iOS or macOS devices have two identifying tokens (nearby, handoff) which change in different intervals. In many cases, the values of the identifying tokens change in sync with the address. However, in some cases the token change does not happen in the same moment, which allows the carry-over algorithm to identify the next random address.

Android devices do not use the same advertising approach as Microsoft and Apple, and are immune to the data tracking methods used by the researchers.

It's not clear if the method described has been used by any bad actors for the purpose of tracking Apple devices using Bluetooth, but it would be undetectable as it does not require breaking Bluetooth security. The research paper contains several recommendations on how to mitigate the tracking vulnerability, and Apple is often quick to patch any security issues that come up, so we could see a fix for this problem in the near future.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
16 months ago

if the software is of such demonstrably low quality, it should be easy for you to prove it. let's hear your proof.

BTW: Nothing like Windows not loading on its own surface laptops, or Excel crashing while running on Windows, or...., or myriad android bugs allowing replacement of software. Fact: Bugs do exist

[LIST=1]
* Super ('https://apple.slashdot.org/story/19/07/11/151241/apple-disables-walkie-talkie-app-due-to-vulnerability-that-could-allow-iphone-eavesdropping')
* easy ('https://it.slashdot.org/story/19/07/11/0423244/apple-pushes-a-silent-mac-update-to-remove-hidden-zoom-web-serverhttps://it.slashdot.org/story/19/07/09/0521212/serious-zoom-security-flaw-could-let-websites-hijack-mac-cameras')
* to ('https://it.slashdot.org/story/19/06/29/0651212/new-mac-malware-abuses-recently-disclosed-gatekeeper-zero-day')
* prove ('https://apple.slashdot.org/story/19/06/15/0450239/cellebrite-says-it-can-unlock-any-iphone-for-cops'):
* How ('https://apple.slashdot.org/story/19/06/03/1957213/apple-finally-kills-itunes')
* many ('https://apple.slashdot.org/story/19/05/14/1938252/its-almost-impossible-to-tell-if-your-iphone-has-been-hacked')
* more ('https://it.slashdot.org/story/19/04/08/221253/exodus-spyware-found-targeting-apple-ios-users')
* do ('https://apple.slashdot.org/story/19/03/29/173216/macos-10144-mail-client-has-broken-gmail-access-for-some-users')
* you ('https://apple.slashdot.org/story/19/02/19/1722240/apples-newest-macs-seem-to-have-a-serious-audio-bug')
* want ('https://apple.slashdot.org/story/19/02/07/2046203/apple-releases-iphone-update-to-fix-group-facetime-eavesdropping-bug')?


That's just from a few months; not the most major clusters from, say, the last year or two.

The world outside of your echo chamber noticed a long time ago:

Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 months ago

What's so difficult to long press/3d touch the settings icon and then choose WiFi or bluetooth and turn it off?

Not difficult, but annoying that it doesn't work in control center that way anymore. When I turn Wifi off I want to turn it off not "disconnect but still on".
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 months ago

I am a little confused. Does this mean that if someone is following you and within bluetooth range (100 ft?), they can track you?

Non-continuous tracking.

For example, if you're in a Starbucks, you can find the 5 people (who have an iOS/MacOS device) that are sitting there's bluetooth ID .... now tape your device under a table tracking all these ids, you'll know when those 5 people return. Therefore you can 'track people' and their comings and goings by their devices. Of course, you don't know who those 5 people are, you'd have to monitor it in person, and then watch as they leave/enter to name these IDs to track person by person. (i.e. ID #1 is 'cute freckled girl', #2 is 'fat balding guy', etc)

It has been possible to track people via cell phone towers for a long time for iOS and Android devices.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 months ago

What's so difficult to long press/3d touch the settings icon and then choose WiFi or bluetooth and turn it off?

Except that doesn't turn it off Apple changed that in iOS 11(?) - now it's in a disconnected-but-still-on mode. very annoying. Same problem when I travel. I use a VPN, but turn it, and wifi, off when I go to bed. If I turn Wifi "off" via control centre then it turns back on at 5am (without the VPN).

Great management on that one, Tim Cook and co...
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 months ago
iOS 13 reveals how many apps want to access Bluetooth. Really appreciate the new controls, but I wish Apple hadn't made turning off Bluetooth and Wifi so difficult in general. Never seems to turn off completely.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 months ago

Demonstrably low-quality software and decreasing-quality hardware.

Meaning increased margins and increased stock price!

Karaoke web series, watch bands, Doctor Dre headsets.

The sky's the limit!

#FIRETHEACCOUNTANT

if the software is of such demonstrably low quality, it should be easy for you to prove it. let's hear your proof.

BTW: Nothing like Windows not loading on its own surface laptops, or Excel crashing while running on Windows, or...., or myriad android bugs allowing replacement of software. Fact: Bugs do exist
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Hands-On With iOS 14 Widgets, Custom Icons, and Home Screen Setup

Tuesday September 22, 2020 3:25 pm PDT by
Apple with iOS 14 introduced widgets on the Home Screen, leading to unprecedented levels of customization for the iPhone. Combined with Shortcuts that let you change an app's icon, iOS 14 lets you create a whole new look for your Home Screen. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. We've been following along with some of the creative alternative Home Screen designs that M...

New Images Leak of iPhone 12 Braided USB-C to Lightning Cable

Thursday September 24, 2020 2:37 am PDT by
Rumors suggest Apple's upcoming iPhone 12 models will ship with a new Lightning to USB-C cable that includes a braided fabric design. Images of the purported cables were leaked in July, and today leaker Mr White has shared new images that give us a closer look at what we might get included in the iPhone 12 box. The photos show a USB-C to Lightning cable with a clearly braided design rather...

Apple's iPhone 12 Event Could Happen on October 13 Based on Rumors From Mobile Operators

Wednesday September 23, 2020 11:51 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone-centric event could perhaps be held on Tuesday, October 13, according to information shared with MacRumors by an employee at a UK cellular carrier. There's no way for us to confirm the dates at this point in time nor are we sure on the credibility of the source, but even without a rumor, Tuesday, October 13 is a good guess based on Apple's historic launch timelines, ...

New Version of Microsoft Office Coming Next Year That Won't Require a Subscription

Thursday September 24, 2020 1:53 am PDT by
Microsoft will next year offer a new perpetual release of Microsoft Office for Mac and Windows that doesn't require a subscription to use, according to the software giant (via Windows Central). "Microsoft Office will also see a new perpetual release for both Windows and Mac, in the second half of 2021," said Microsoft in a blog post announcing the next version of its Exchange server,...

Interest in iOS 14 Home Screen Ideas Helps Pinterest Break Daily Download Record

Wednesday September 23, 2020 4:37 am PDT by
Apple's introduction of widgets on the Home Screen in iOS 14 has driven a surge in interest among users looking to customize their iPhone, and that has reportedly had a knock-on effect for Pinterest, whose iOS app has seen record downloads as users flock to its content seeking design inspiration. As reported by TechCrunch, App Store intelligence firm Apptopia was first to note the impact of ...

'iPhone 12 mini' Name Reappears in Leaked Apple iPhone 12 Case Stickers

Friday September 25, 2020 1:58 am PDT by
Earlier this week a proven leaker claimed that the iPhone 12 lineup would be named "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max," and today the same nomenclature has appeared again in a photo depicting alleged stickers from unreleased Silicone iPhone cases originating from Apple's international distribution center in Ireland. The photo shows three stickers with the...

Apple Releases iOS 14.0.1 With Fix for Bug That Resets Default Apps After Rebooting

Thursday September 24, 2020 10:12 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 14.0.1, the first update to the iOS 14 operating system that was released on September 16. Today's update is a bug fix update addressing issues that weren't able to be fixed in the initial iOS 14 launch. The iOS 14.0.1 update is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the new software, go to Settings > General > Software Update. ...

Apple Emphasizes That Solo Loop May Increase in Length Over Time, Updates Sizing Guide With More Specific Instructions

Wednesday September 23, 2020 8:26 am PDT by
Apple on Tuesday updated one of its support documents to emphasize that the new silicone rubber Solo Loop for the Apple Watch may increase in length over time, as mentioned in fine print at the bottom of the Solo Loop product page. Apple has also updated its printable Solo Loop sizing guide with more specific instructions, as noted by 9to5Mac's Michael Steeber. The guide now advises users to ...

iOS 14 Widgets Offer iPhone Users Creative Home Screen Ideas

Sunday September 20, 2020 8:43 pm PDT by
Updated on September 22nd with hands on video. In iOS 14, Apple introduced ‌the concept of Home Screen‌ widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. Widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. Despite the relative lack of...

Kuo: Mini-LED Displays to Debut in Apple's Next iPad Pro

Tuesday September 22, 2020 11:45 pm PDT by
Following his report earlier this week indicating that Apple will be accelerating adoption of mini-LED displays in its iPad and Mac notebook lineups thanks to better than expected development from potential secondary supplier Sanan Optoelectronics, analyst Ming-Chi has released a new report today sharing a bit more perspective on the mini-LED display market as it relates to Apple. Kuo says...