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Monday, May 2, 2011

How Do iPhone Perform it's Tracking Job?

Many news report that iOS on iPhone 4 track every location ever been roamed (ie. Guardian). This news started from the findings of two security researchers in the UK. They have uncovered a disturbing truth that iPhone 4's have been tracking their users movements with startling accuracy (unbeknown-st to the users). This information can be deciphered and is apparently as easy to open.

How iPhone Tracker Record Location

Apple's iPhone keeps track of where the user go. It saves every detail of it location to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the computer when the two devices are synchronized. The database file contains the latitude and longitude of the phone's recorded coordinates, completely with timestamps. It means that anyone who can stole or access the phone or the computer could discover details about the owner's movements, even using a simple program.

The more fundamental problem is that Apple are collecting this information at all. Cellphone providers also collect similar data almost inevitably as part of their operations, but it’s kept secure behind their firewall. It normally requires a court order to gain access to it, whereas this is available to anyone who can get their hands on your phone or computer.

Apple did not immediately respond to the findings. Apple was responded this issue on April, 27th in the form of Q & A (Question and Answer). In that statement, Apple is indirectly admitted that they did not record user location data. Logging the locations on the iPhone as if is not their purpose. Apple argued that they maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around users location, when some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from users iPhone. They state that it will help iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.

Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, the data scientists who discovered the file, pointed out that the file is moved onto new devices when an old one is replaced; "Apple might have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that's our speculation. The fact that (the file) is transferred across (to a new iPhone, iPad) when a user migrate is evidence that the data gathering isn't accidental."

Both scientists said it file does not seem to be transmitted to Apple itself. In fact, Apple was recognized that this data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple said that they can't identify the source of this data.

The iOS on iPhone system appears to record the data whether or not the user agrees. Apple declined to comment on why the file is created or whether it can be disabled. Anyone with direct access to a user's computer could run the application and see their movements visualization. Computer data encryption is one way to protect against it. Though, the file still leaves on the phone. Warden states that it's clear that there was a scary amount of detail on user movements was recorded.

As Warden and Alasdair Allan studied, the location is determined by triangulating against the nearest cellphone towers. This isn’t as accurate as GPS, but presumably takes less power. In some cases it can get very confused and temporarily think that you’re several miles away from your actual location, but these tend to be intermittent glitches.

The hidden file that contains the location data on iPhone is named consolidated.db. This file is easy to uncover and read, making any desktops that are backed up your phone and the phone itself even bigger privacy dangers than they would usually be. Peoples, even with no computer forensics knowledge could easily find and open that file.

The file will be stored in a folder inside /Users/-user name-/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/ each time a user sync up an iOS device (iPad, iPhone, etc). Files will be copied into a new folder here. The names of the folders and the files within them are mostly random strings, but there are some index files like Info.plist and Manifest.mbdb. You can load Info.plist into a text editor to see what device it's for. Inside the file, there is a 'Device Name' value in the XML, it matches your iPhone. The Manifest.mbdb and Manifest.mbdx files contain a listing of the real names of the files represented by random strings.

Pete Warden worked for Apple for five years, and left three years ago on good terms. He had no contact with anything iPhone related, and received no help or information from inside the company while researching this problem.

Main source.

Other post:
- New Blackberry Bold Touch 9930 Leaks on Youtube

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