Is Apple Spying on Your iPhone?

Category: Apple-Mac , Security

According to security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski, every iPhone, iPad, and all other iOS devices can be ransacked by Apple, the NSA, or hackers through remote-access tools “hidden” in the iOS operating system. These tools give a remote user full control of the device and the ability to download nearly every scrap of data it holds. But what's the truth? Read on...

A Secret Backdoor For Spying?

When is a burglar’s secret entrance not a burglar’s secret entrance? When it’s a service entrance that you must consciously unlock when you want service. That’s the gist of the controversy that has raged for the past month over some obscure code buried in Apple’s iOS operating system.

But in his presentation at the HOPE/X security conference on July 18, 2014, Jonathan Zdziarski seemed to indicate something more sinister -- a secret "back door" that any hacker, NSA spook or Apple itself could use to easily access or monitor the data on an iPhone, iPad or iPod.

Zdziarski spoke about services built into iOS with scary names like, and DROPOUTJEEP, an evil-sounding "software implant" capable of remotely and covertly accessing files, text messages, contacts, voicemail, the microphone and camera of a mobile device.

Apple Spying on iOS Devices?

The FUD factory known as the “news media” swarmed all over Zdziarski’s slideshow like ants on a dropped ice cream cone. Publications like The Guardian, Forbes, Ars Technica, Daily Mail and IBTimes UK all rushed out breathless articles about millions of iPhones, iPads, and Mac Airbooks – anything with an Apple logo on it - being wide-open to snooping and pillaging by Apple, the government, and maybe even mind-controlling space monsters from the Pleiades.

You know, the usual tech news cycle. I've written about my disdain for the disinformation in this arena before, in Geeks Who Cry Wolf and Lies, Damned Lies, and Olympic Journalism.

Stories about secret backdoors in Windows, popular anti-virus programs, and encryption tools have been making the rounds for years. But none of them have been substantiated. There does seem to be truth in the stories about the NSA intercepting computer hardware enroute to overseas destinations, and implanting spyware or bugging tools. Cisco, a maker of network routers that manage a large portion of the Internet, believes it's true and has complained directly to the White House. But I digress...

Apple Responds to the Spyware Allegations

Apple's Secret Backdoor in iOS?

Apple responded to the hubbub over Zdziarski’s "revelations" with a calm and lengthy disclosure of what all the fuss was about. The first paragraph is reassuring, and you can almost hear the exasperated sarcasm the author must have been stifling:

“Each of these diagnostic capabilities requires the user to have unlocked their device and agreed to trust another computer. Any data transmitted between the iOS device and trusted computer is encrypted with keys not shared with Apple. For users who have enabled iTunes Wi-Fi Sync on a trusted computer, these services may also be accessed wirelessly by that computer.” And further, none of these tools are secret or undocumented.

Predictably, the very same publications that told us all to panic swiftly assigned other reporters to the “nothing to panic about” stories that impugned Zdziarski, the publications’ own source of the “time to panic” stories, who was a sufficiently credible source to justify the panic just a week earlier.

One of the funniest episodes in this clown show was the public exchange of nastygrams between Zdziarski and one of his cattiest detractors, Violet Blue, a “sex and technology pundit” who blogs for ZDNet. Here is Blue’s opening salvo and here is Zdziarki’s Twitter response with comebacks by Blue and others.

The bottom line of the “Apple backdoor for the NSA” story is: nobody is secretly invading your iPhone. At least not with the diagnostic utilities mentioned in Zdziarki’s presentation, which can only be accessed with your conscious permission and cooperation. And the state of tech journalism today is either appalling or amusing. If the sky really does start falling, will anyone believe the warnings?

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Is Apple Spying on Your iPhone?"

Posted by:

22 Aug 2014

Bob ... I do not have an iPhone and don't plan to have one, either ... However, I honestly do see this as a new "scare tactic", to get back at Apple. For me, I see this as another, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling", in the tech world.

Bottom line, there must be someway, where the Cell Phone companies and for those most fortunate to have a Rooted phone ... Can obtain software updates and the like. Are those, "back door" aspects of either the iOS or the Android OS or Windows OS???

While, I don't plan to ever use an iPhone, I do have one of my Cell Phone Plan members, who, loves his iPhone and won't use, anything else. To each his or her own, in my book. :)

Posted by:

22 Aug 2014

------------>FOR EDITOR ONLY

Bob, I *THINK* that this is more accurate than many shrinks get.

Summary - A computer program from Bangladesh can determine your mood correctly 87% of the time (range 87%-91%). No N given.

In looking for correct % of shrinks 1st Dx of emotional state (which I abandoned though I sure think back in the 70's it was in he high 60% range) I found this 17 June 2014 abstract about 'emotional contagion' through Facebook postings: (short of abstract (pubmed): if you post neg, you get more neg feed back, if you post + you get more + feedback.

Abstract follows:(you can Google the PMID number):

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. [I truncated full cite]

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.

Abstract [edited] CONCLUSION is **--> AT END
Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.

Emotional contagion is well established in laboratory experiments, with people transferring positive and negative emotions to others.

Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks.. ., although the results are controversial.

In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. (Ed. -does this mean they changed postings??)

***----->When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.

Ed: thus - given back, + given back.

These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.

This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others' positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.

PMID:24889601 [PubMed - in process]


Free PMC Article -- means you can read entire study on line and not pay big $$ for short or long pp study.


SO, you can catch 'emotions' from FB, wonder if there's anyone working on a vaccine? The model for the study would be interesting to read, but I don't have time. How do you get permission to change FB postings - or WHO would give it??!? (oh, right, the Starving Student Syndrome! Duh!)

Posted by:

Peter Ballantyne
22 Aug 2014

Yeah, funny or pathetic depending on your point of view. Many years ago I worked as an engineer for a large whiteware manufacturing company and they had two (yep, just two) PCs in the whole factory. Mine got bitten via a floppy disk by the original stoned virus. All it did was blank the screen and the words, "This computer is stoned" slowly scrolled across - and that's all it did. The company panicked and locked down their entire network - all two PCs of it! Haha! Mind you, that was in the mid 1980s, and just goes to prove that silly people never learn!

Posted by:

Byron M
17 Oct 2014

I don't understand why a app needs some many permissions to use it. Why does a game app need access to my camera, mic, WiFi, etc just to play a game online? Same goes for most apps for mobile devices. They don't need to spy on us. We give them permission to access every aspect of our life through app permissions.
Just about ready to cut the Internet and take my life back.

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