FaceTime bug let users access the mic and camera on others' phones

The person whose phone was affected would have been given no indication that others were eavesdropping.

FaceTime bug let users access the mic and camera on others' phones

MacRumors via YouTube
  • A FaceTime bug enabled iOS users to access the microphones and cameras on the phones of people they tried to call, even when those people didn't answer.
  • Apple has temporarily disabled parts of its services to make such eavesdropping impossible.
  • In general, iOS tends to be the most secure of the popular mobile operating systems, but the recently discovered bug shows all systems have vulnerabilities.

A recently discovered bug in Apple FaceTime made it possible for users to hear live audio and video coming from the phone of the person they're calling — even if the recipient didn't answer the call.

An Apple spokesperson said the company is "aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week." The flaw was reportedly discovered by a 14-year-old and his mom on January 20. In a video posted to Twitter, the two explain and demonstrate the bug.

Others have also replicated the bug.

The blog 9to5mac explained how it was possible to test the bug on any device running iOS 12.1 or later:

  • Start a FaceTime Video call with an iPhone contact.
  • Whilst the call is dialling, swipe up from the bottom of the screen and tap Add Person.
  • Add your own phone number in the Add Person screen.
  • You will then start a group FaceTime call including yourself and the audio of the person you originally called, even if they haven't accepted the call yet.

What seemed to be happening was, after you'd added yourself to a group call, FaceTime immediately assumed a conference call had started and so it activated the recipient's microphone. Worse, if the recipient chose to hit a button to "ignore" a FaceTime call, it seemed to activate the camera as well — all while the recipient remained unaware someone might be listening or watching.

On January 28, Apple temporarily disabled its server group that was running the group FaceTime feature, in what was likely a temporary fix for the bug.

Which is more secure: Android or iOS?

In general, iOS has long been considered the more secure of the two for one basic reason: Unlike Android's (mostly) open-source system, iOS is a closed system that doesn't share its APIs with developers. As such, the apps that make it to the App Store are vetted by the company, and so users tend to encounter fewer — but not zero — vulnerabilities, as security software company Sophos explains:

"...iOS isn't 100% invulnerable. Recent examples, such as the iOS-based malware XCodeGhost have proven that iOS is vulnerable to malicious attacks as well.

Like Apple, Google provides a centralized market for mobile applications called Google Play. However, that is offset by the Android's ability to install apps from third-party sources. Some are well-known and reputable such as Amazon. Others are not, and originate from malware hotspots in Russia and China. The criminal developers deconstruct and decompile popular apps like Angry Birds, and publish malicious versions and make them available for free.

The number of threats―especially on the Android platform―continues to increase."

Other analyses suggest iOS is generally better in terms of responding quickly and effectively to vulnerabilities, as this comparison from SecurityLab showed.

Of course, the recently discovered flaw in FaceTime shows that sometimes security threats don't come from malicious third parties, but from the provider itself.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Study helps explain why motivation to learn declines with age

Research suggests that aging affects a brain circuit critical for learning and decision-making.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things or engage in everyday activities. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

Keep reading Show less

End gerrymandering? Here’s a radical solution

Why not just divide the United States in slices of equal population?

The contiguous U.S., horizontally divided into deciles (ten bands of equal population).

Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps
  • Slicing up the country in 10 strips of equal population produces two bizarre maps.
  • Seattle is the biggest city in the emptiest longitudinal band, San Antonio rules the largest north-south slice.
  • Curiously, six cities are the 'capitals' of both their horizontal and vertical deciles.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Scientists discover why fish evolved limbs and left water

Researchers find a key clue to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast