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AirTags, for better or worse 🔍😥

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Introduced in 2021 by Apple, AirTags are increasingly adopted by the brand’s customers. If this is good news for the Californian company, it is not necessarily the case for everyone.

How do AirTags work ? 🕵🏾‍♂️

Let’s start at the beginning, what is an AirTag? Well, it’s a connected tag that can be attached to any object (bag, key ring, bike, etc.), which then allows us to easily find it.

And how do we find it, you may say, well that’s the magic of Apple. When you want to use a bluetooth device, you usually do a search from the Bluetooth menu of your smartphone to find it. Well, this is the principle on which AirTags is based. It should be known that AirTags regularly send a signal to surrounding iPhones to warn them that they are nearby. These iPhones then send a message to Apple via iCloud to tell them « Hey, I found this AirTag not far from me ». And if you ever don’t know where you misplaced your AirTag, Apple will tell you the last location of that AirTag. This whole process is transparent to iPhone users and happens in the background without any action required.

When the owner of an AirTag is in the vicinity, he or she can ring it to locate it more easily. Keep this detail in mind, because it is important for the future.

Source: Apple

When the strength of AirTags becomes their greatest weakness 😈

As seen before, AirTags rely on the iPhones around them to be able to accurately communicate their location to their owner. With the number of iPhones in circulation, it’s easy to get the exact location of your AirTag if you lose it. Except that this strength has made some AirTags go to the dark side.

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Malicious people are increasingly diverting AirTags from their original purpose. There are numerous reports of AirTags being hijacked to steal cars. The principle is simple. Criminals hide AirTags in the vehicle (in a wheel, a gap, etc.) when the vehicle is parked in a car park. Then they follow the position of the AirTags to the home of the owner to do their dirty work.

And that’s not the worst of it. Unfortunately, these AirTags are used by stalkers who can easily slip them into their victims’ bags to track them. Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and technical advisor to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, has already denounced this use of Apple’s tag

« If you create a useful object to track stolen items, you have also created a perfect tool for stalking. I have personally spoken to several people who have found AirTags in their possession. »

These two practices were also staged by an American YouTuber, who tricked one of his friends

Can we protect ourselves ? 🛡️

One suspects that Apple has thought (or not) about this type of situation during the development of its product. Security features are implemented to prevent this kind of tag hijacking.

First of all, an iPhone user receives a message when an AirTag that does not belong to him moves with him. But if this notification arrives in the middle of other notifications, it can easily be skipped. At any time, the user can also launch the Locate application, access the Devices menu to check if an AirTag that does not belong to them is moving with them.

Android users are less well off. They do not have the ability to receive automatic notifications. To detect an AirTag in their vicinity, they must first download the Tracker Detect application, provided by Apple, and then do a manual search. Not very reassuring.

AirTags also have a feature that does not require action on a smartphone. They automatically start ringing when they are out of reach of their owner for a long time. At the time of their release, this period was 3 days. It has been shortened to between 8 and 24 hours. Unfortunately, this ringing is not loud enough and can easily be disguised by the sound of a motor. Worse still, some tinkerers have managed to disable the speaker and some are selling these modified AirTags.

With all this, Apple is expected to quickly deploy more effective solutions, if only possible, to prevent these hijackings. As these tags gain popularity, cases like the ones above will increase. And Apple is not alone in offering this type of product. Samsung has its own range of SmartTags products.

In the meantime, if you ever find one of these tags in your bag, your car or attached to your bike, follow Apple’s procedure available by clicking here, and approach the authorities immediately

Sources: 01Net, BBC

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