AirTag: the hidden face of tracking devices

AirTag: la cara oculta de los dispositivos de seguimiento

I want to start from a base: devices like AirTags seem to me, in their concept, a very good idea. Many of us who are already a few years old remember those key rings that became fashionable in Spain in the eighties, and that responded to a whistle with beeps. This system, which now seems rudimentary but which fascinated us at the time, was a great help to find the key ring that we could not find and that happened to be in the pocket of a jacket or under the cushions on the sofa.

We have a bad habit of losing things (or of them falling into the wrong hands, which also happens regularly), and Devices like Apple’s AirTags can make a difference Between the fact that we have to regret a loss or that we can recover the lost object, with the joy and financial savings that this will entail in many cases. The premise, as I said before, seems sensational to me, and I think it’s great that technology companies like Apple have worked in this regard.

The problem is that these devices can also be used with malicious intent. We already told you, a few months ago, how the AirTag could be used in an attack of the Good Samaritan, that is, those actions in which the good will of the victim is abused. In that case, the devices could carry a payload of malware that, if the tag were connected to a network, would be transferred to it, with all the risks that this entails.

However, now I am not going to talk about this type of risk, but about another one that has been talking for some time, and about which yesterday the Twitter user Jeana Jeana posted a thread which is concerning. In it he told how a stranger had used an AirTag to try to find out his location at another time. To this end, obviously without Jeana’s knowledge, this person put an AirTag in the victim’s vehicle, while she was having a drink in a bar.

When you leave the bar, get in the car and start driving, Jeana’s iPhone started receiving notifications about a misplaced AirTag, something that was really strange, because the car was in motion and there were no other vehicles around it. Soon, this put her on alert, as it made her assume that someone had put the tag on her car. After stopping and making a first review of it, he could not find it, but still, for security reasons, he preferred not to go home.

Instead, after a few hours, a person close to Jeana helped her check the car and, finally, they found the AirTag next to one of the front wheels of the car. At that point, the victim’s trusted person got rid of the tag. and finally he was able to return home, without having to worry that a stranger might find out his address from the tag on his car. And luckily, Jeana had an iPhone that alerted her to the presence of the label. On the contrary I would not have known anything, I would have gone home normally and, consequently, the attacker would have found out his address.

This is a problem that has no simple solution, and if a case has been made public, it is most likely that it has already happened on previous occasions, and that in some of them the victim has not become aware that he was being spied on by an AirTag. A more serious problem than it seems, and that should lead to rethinking the operating model of this type of labels.

Clear, any limitation of their functions would result in a reduction of their functions, so they would cease to be so practical when their use is well-intentioned. Thus, for example, being able to disable tracking on an AirTag to which we have physical access would end its usefulness in the case of stolen objects, to give just one example. And is that, how can a label distinguish if it is being used in a legitimate or illegitimate way? Furthermore, how can a person who finds one, as in the case of Jeana, prove that it is being used for evil purposes and that it should be deactivated?

The truth is that I’ve been thinking about it since yesterday and, the truth is, I can’t think of a solution. However, yes that it would be necessary to expand the devices capable of detecting smart tags such as AirTags. An app for Android, for example, would be an excellent option, so that anyone would have the possibility of identifying actions of this type, regardless of whether they are Android or iOS users. But honestly, I can’t think of anything else, and that’s why I say it’s such a complicated problem. What do you think?


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