AirDrop 'Cracked' By Chinese Authorities to Identify Senders

Apple's AirDrop feature has reportedly been cracked by a Chinese state-backed institution, allowing authorities to identify senders who share "undesirable content" over the peer-to-peer wireless protocol (via Bloomberg).

airdrop videos ios 17
AirDrop is Apple's ad-hoc service that lets users discover nearby Macs and iOS devices and securely transfer files between them over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Users can send and receive photos, videos, documents, contacts, passwords and anything else that can be transferred from a Share Sheet.

Apple advertises the protocol as secure because the wireless connection uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption, but the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice (BMBJ) says it has devised a way to bypass the protocol's encryption and reveal identifying information.

According to the BMBJ's website, iPhone device logs were analyzed to create a "rainbow table" which allowed investigators to convert hidden hash values into the original text and correlate the phone numbers and email accounts of AirDrop content senders.

The "technological breakthrough" has successfully helped the public security authorities identify a number of criminal suspects, who use the AirDrop function to spread illegal content, the BMBJ added.

"It improves the efficiency and accuracy of case-solving and prevents the spread of inappropriate remarks as well as potential bad influences," the bureau added.

It is not known if the security flaw in the AirDrop protocol has been exploited by a government agency before now, but it is not the first time a flaw has been discovered. In April 2021, German researchers found that the mutual authentication mechanism that confirms both the receiver and sender are on each other's address book could be used to expose private information. According to the researchers, Apple was informed of the flaw in May of 2019, but did not fix it.

Apple limited the use of the AirDrop on devices in China in November 2022, after anti-government activists used the function to spread political leaflets. AirDrop became restricted by default to Contacts Only, and the option to turn on AirDrop for "Everyone" was limited to 10 minutes.

With the launch of iOS 16.2, Apple expanded the AirDrop limitation it introduced in China to all users globally, but Apple said that the feature was actually introduced in an effort to cut down on spam content spread in crowded areas like malls and airports.

Note: Due to the political or social nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Tags: China, AirDrop

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Top Rated Comments

JustAnExpat Avatar
22 weeks ago
My opinion:

1. It's a Bloomberg article. They wrote a piece called "The Big Hack" a few years ago that said China put a small device on everyone's computer. Apple (and everyone else) denied it, and Bloomberg never gave proof. See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04/the-big-hack-how-china-used-a-tiny-chip-to-infiltrate-america-s-top-companies . I take everything Bloomberg says with a grain of salt.

2. I think this is false information being released by the Chinese government to scare people into not using this service anymore to share bad information. If the Chinese government did find this violation, they would be keeping it as much of a secret as possible.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
0339327 Avatar
22 weeks ago
It boggles the mind why we are still so reliant on an evil regime for manufacturing and sales.

We need to find alternatives.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jonnysods Avatar
22 weeks ago
I think the goverment has the people's best interests in mind, glad they cracked this so they can protect society from themselves, phew.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
heystu Avatar
22 weeks ago
Sorry am I being a bit thick here...by 'bragging' about it they've just tipped Apple off who will doubtlessly be deploying a fix for this very quickly. Maybe they should've just stayed quiet?
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ifxf Avatar
22 weeks ago
Again the software vendors propensity to keep log files is a huge hole in their so called security. Apple needs to provide an option for users to disable log files.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Guacamole Avatar
22 weeks ago
the regime that keeps on giving ....
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)