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iPhone Users, Beware!

Posted July 21, 2010 4:00 AM by Sharkles

Last March, Kaplin wondered if iPhones live up to the hype they receive. Since then, Apple has released yet another version of the iPhone and has sold millions of units despite mixed reviews from both users and Consumer Reports, a popular magazine that publishes reviews and comparisons of consumer products.

Design and capability issues aside, there is another argument against the iPhone – one that many users might not know about, or think affects them. Not long ago I wrote about how increased connectivity has allowed law enforcement to develop new ways of catching criminals. If you're an iPhone user, this may now pertain to you, too.

iPhone forensics is a new field of study for law enforcement officials who are learning how to retrieve information from the phones in criminal cases. This new discipline is made possible by the wealth of information iPhones store unbeknownst to their users. Even when it appears that users have deleted the information, it's still easily assessable by those who know where to look.

People like Johnathan Zdziarski, a former hacker and now author of the book iPhone Forensics, know that the information saved in iPhones can be extremely telling. As he told The Star Press, "These devices are people's companions today…They're not mobile phones anymore. They organize people's lives. And if you're doing something criminal, something about it is probably going to go through that phone."

What Lies Beneath
Many users know that their cell phones can be tracked using cell towers and if they've turned on the GPS locator. But the iPhone allows its users to be tracked in other ways too.

  • The iPhone regularly stores information when users close applications. Need to use a map? The iPhone can do that, but when closing out of the application, the phone takes a screenshot and stores it. These images could be used to track where a user was, which is useful in confirming a criminal suspect's alibi.

  • Many people rely on the camera-function of their phones for easy snapping and sharing. What they may not know is that pictures taken with iPhones are embedded with GEO tags and other identifying information, including the GPS location of where the picture was taken along with the serial number of the phone it was taken with.

  • iPhone apps store information about the user's location and history. This data is intended to be used for targeted advertising, but it can also be useful for police.

  • The keyboard cache logs everything that users type in order to learn autocorrect for fixing typing mistakes. This cache is easily recovered by officials, providing the order in which it was typed, if the content was an email or text, and even if it had been deleted long ago.

Forensics experts say that even if this information is deleted from an iPhone, it still lives in the database.

Thoughts
While iPhone forensics has a place for catching criminals, there are millions of people who are iPhone users and do not commit crimes. When Kaplin sent me the The Star Press article, he told me that his iPhone-holding friends were indifferent when they learned about the stored information.

I don't personally own an iPhone, but I am creeped out just hearing about it. Just last night, I was reading a blogger's account of getting a phone call from someone she didn't know while out to dinner. In that instance, he used information from Foursquare to track her down. A savvy-enough user could also track someone down based on the GPS information embedded in iPhone photos.

As indicated in the comments from last week's post on Internet security, privacy is often just an illusion. When stories like this come to light, it's horrifying to see just how true that is.

If you own an iPhone, does this bother you? Should we even be surprised by stories like this anymore?

What do you think?

Resources
"iPhone Makes Great Snitch." The Star Press. 11 July 2010. Web. 16 July 2010.

< http://www.thestarpress.com/article/20100711/BUSINESS/7110348/iPhone-makes-great-snitch>

Kaplin, Mike. "Are iPhones Really Worth the Hype?" Cr4.globalspec.com. 5 March 2009. Web. 16 July 2010. <http://cr4.globalspec.com/blogentry/8331/>

Sarno, David. "Apple Collecting, Sharing iPhone Users' Precise Locations." The Los Angeles Times. 21 June 2010. Web. 16 July 2010. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2010/06/apple-location-privacy-iphone-ipad.html>

Sharkkles. "Fighting Crime in the Digital Age." Cr4.globalspec.com. 27 May 2010. Web. 16 July 2010. < http://cr4.globalspec.com/blogentry/12734/>

Image: http://www.forensic.com.sg/images/iphone_forensics.gif

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#1

Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 10:29 AM

The iPhone may have been the first to store such a vast amount of information (which is why it made it into the title of Zdziarski's book), but now there are several phones that are comparable to the iPhone (i.e. anything that runs Google Droid).

I haven't read the book, but I will bet that a lot of the info can be applied to all of today's leading smartphones, not just the iPhone, so it isn't just iPhone users that should be aware...

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#2

Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 10:34 AM

A separate point I should make...

If it helps catch criminals, I think that is great!
Maybe this post should be retitled to Criminals With iPhones, Beware!

(or to my last comment, "Criminals With Smartphones, Beware!")

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 10:40 AM

The original article says specifically that it is much easier for police to get info from an iPhone than a Droid.

"Law-enforcement experts said iPhone technology records a wealth of information that can be tapped more easily than BlackBerry and Droid devices to help police learn where you've been, what you were doing there and whether you've got something to hide."

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#4
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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 10:51 AM

I didn't want the title to speak only to criminals because sometimes you don't have to be a criminal to be investigated -- you could merely be pegged as 'suspicious' for whatever reason by law enforcement, which is pretty subjective. That is why I said it would be helpful for catching criminals; however, it could also be wrongly used against innocent people too.

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#5
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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 11:00 AM

Plus with the constantly increasing restrictions and laws we have, it's only a matter of time until everyone is a criminal.

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#6
In reply to #3

Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 11:01 AM

True, but it doesn't mention how much time hackers have spent getting into the iPhone vs. getting into Droid. It's not necessarily harder, the effort hasn't been put in yet...

There are way more iPhone users, so a hacker is going to target them first (similar to the Viruses on Windows vs Mac phenomena)

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#7
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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 11:11 AM

Agreed, the Droid phones are still pretty new to the market. I think that it's a matter of time before similar information comes to light as Google isn't the most trustworthy company when it comes to privacy and data collection.

Of course, that is just me assuming since I don't have one to play around with.

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#8

Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 11:19 AM

I often wonder if we are asking all the wrong questions. Perhaps the question shouldn't be" "Should this technology be allowed?" but rather: "How can we make this technology better so that it can't be abused to hurt innocent people?" This technology can be really helpful to catching criminals and proving innocence, and for those reasons it should be allowed. But if authorities abuse the power and start needlessly "checking and tracking" people, it makes it harder to support this new advance in technology.

This technology can be really helpful, but if people can't trust it, there will be resistance. If anything comes of this resistance, time can only tell. Authorities should be as adamant in protecting their innocent citizens as they are catching criminals. In order to do this, I think there needs to be rules or changes to the technology so that citizens can still retain some shred of privacy. Great article Sharkles.

How can we make this technology tamper-proof so that innocent people can lead "private" lives?

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#9
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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 11:58 AM

It can't be prevented... it is a negative result of trying to prevent criminal activity, and authorities accept that side-effect.
I can think of other attempts at stopping/catching criminals that also result in a negative impact on the innocent. I won't list them though because I don't want off-topic replies on things that have been debated way too many times...

Don't encourage people to waste their time giving opinions (or "suggested solutions") on what can be done to prevent a negative impact on innocent lives... you are just asking people to regurgitate the same naive comments that we have all seen before, and that's not what CR4 about.

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#10
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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/21/2010 12:46 PM

You are right. CR4 isn't about regurgitating naive comments or reiterating the same points of views. But it certainly is about learning. Instead of pointing me to some sources or examples of posed solutions, you acted toward insulting me while deters learning. CR4 is about sharing knowledge, not about discouraging people from discussing topics that are important. If you don't want to read the rehashing of opinions which you predict to be "regurgitations of the same naive comments," then you can try doing this thing where you skim comments and only read what interests you. It is quite a shame, because you probably could have provided good sources/articles where things of this nature have been discussed before and received a Good Answer or praise.

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#11

Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/22/2010 12:18 AM

Couldn't care less. I already assume that using any device jeopardizes your "privacy" in some way, and I'm not a criminal. Also not worried about someone "tracking me down". I'm a 2nd Dan black belt in traditional Tae Kwon Do and the state I live in is a must issue state, if you catch my drift, so it's likely it wouldn't go well for them.

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#12
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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/22/2010 1:07 AM

I'm not too far from the other end of the spectrum re: personal defense. My conflict response has always been avoidance. But I agree on the "Couldn't care less" and "tracking me down". I'm at the age where I just may need someone to track me down...

The advantages FAR outweigh the disadvantages, but it will probably become necessary to add laws similar to wire-tapping laws.

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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/22/2010 1:15 AM

I mean it's along the same lines as the scanning at the air port. You are always free to not use the service and thereby be as private as a hermit, should you so desire. Going out into public incurs a degree of exposure. Be honest, be courageous, and get on with your life. Of course balancing the rights of the individual with public safety is always going to be a delicate matter deserving of much thought and controversy.

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#14
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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/22/2010 4:58 AM

Dumb Criminal of the Day Award. In San Francisco, in broad daylihgt in the middle of a busy public area, An IPHONE (4) was snatched out of the hand of a woman holding it out in front of herself for better viewing.

The Biker took off, but found himself in the hands of police not many minutes later.

What he had not noticed, was that this phone was being used in a public demonstration of the potential security benefits of the IPHONE. Had the biker looked down, he would have seen the map of San Francisco, with the curser following his path across town.

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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/22/2010 9:22 AM

The curser being the woman, right?

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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/22/2010 3:10 PM

Being both involved in law enforcement and having a love for all things technologically advanced, I see both sides of the issue. The bottom-line is, the unethical of the world, whether they be individual criminals or corporations, are who you should be more concerned about than law enforcement. Because, trust me, if law enforcement wants to find out about you, they will whether you have an iPhone or not.

We have a saying… "In God We Trust, Everyone Else Gets Ran Through NCIC"

And to be quite frank, law enforcement doesn't have the time, or resources, to spy on the average person. They may take surveillance of a populated area that you might just happen to be in, but you have to be pretty bad to warrant the type of surveillance that is portrayed in TV and movies.

First, related to the common citizen, even if they completely rely on technological devices to live their lives, there are degrees of common sense that should be implemented to change them from a soft target to a hard target. Some suggestions are:

Don't use Relationship or Primary Descriptors (e.g. Mom, Wife, Husband, Work…) in your contact list on your phone or as address identifiers in your GPS (e.g. Garman…)

Don't use your actual home address in your GPS. My home button, for example, will take you to the Sheriff's Department close to where I live

Just because a device has a pre-formatted spot for you to put information doesn't mean you have to. What's that? You don't plan on sending e-mails from your phone, then don't enter people's e-mail addresses. Afraid that if your phone gets stolen that the thief will be able to find out where you live and steal from, or harm, you? Well, it's your phone… you know your name, address, and phone number so there is no need to enter all that information in your device, so don't.

Oh, you use your device for business and you travel a lot and have to store that type of information on it. Do you really? Encrypted and Password Protected External media devices are quite small these days and can be kept in your pocket so that if someone does steel your laptop, all they'll get is a computer and application software… the data, contact lists, archived e-mails, etc… are in your pocket. There is also a plethora of web-based data and contact management providers.

If you don't want GPS data included in photos you take, then 1.) don't have a GPS in your phone, or 2.) use a camera to take pictures and a phone to make phone calls.

If your job or personal belief structure requires you to reduce your grid visibility, shy away from these devices. But, even if they don't and you enjoy and desire convenience of combining a PDA, a Camera, a Phone, and Computer Functionality into a single device, and you like all the bells and whistles, then know that they increase your visibility and vulnerability if not managed correctly, so be smart. Just remember, it's not law enforcement you need to be worried about.

Take a moment and look at all your portable electronic devices, including any social networks of which you might be a member, through the eyes of a criminal and search through the device looking for information that you can exploit…

If I steal your Garman, out of your car that has Ohio License Plates that is parked in front of an Orlando, FL tourist attraction and hit the home button, that address that I'm calling my buddy in Ohio and telling him is potentially a good robbery target, is that address going to send him to your house or to a close by Wal-Mart?

If I pick pock your Smart Phone out of your purse while you are in the mall… what I am going to be able to find out about you simply by poking around? Is it password protected? Do you have a contact called 'Mom' with her address that I can call and pretend to be a concerned citizen and tell her that I just saw an ambulance take you to some hospital across town, and then go rob her house?

If you look at your smart device in this light, and make the needed revisions, then they become less of a risk, making you a harder target against the criminal mind-set, or 'Big Brother' if you're paranoid.

JavaHead

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Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/22/2010 3:45 PM
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#18

Re: iPhone Users, Beware!

07/28/2010 3:01 PM

While this is creepy, I would hope that people are not doing things that would need to be brought up in court later on. How about don't commit any crimes that would require police to investigate your phone history. And lets be real, technology is getting crazy enough that they'll be able to track down your activities without having an iPhone- computers, GPS, cars, satellites, etc. Just accept that we have no privacy anymore.

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