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FaceTime exploit lets people eavesdrop on you. Apple plans fix ASAP

Written By | Jan 29, 2019
Apple vs Qualcomm and 5G

Apple iPhone: New 2018 model splash screen. Via Apple’s main website. Fair use.

WASHINGTON.  Guess what, privacy fans? Apple has just revealed a gaping FaceTime security hole in the current version of iOS 12. Believe it or not, individuals can actually call you on your iPhone and – even if you don’t pick up the call – can eavesdrop on you through the phone. We’re talking both audio and video here.

How Apple learned about the FaceTime security issue

Making matters worse, Apple’s crack tech and security teams didn’t discover the bug, according to Macworld’s Michael Simon. A user did and quickly reacted by tipping off Mac news and review site 9to5Mac.

“After a tip, 9to5Mac exposed a weird FaceTime bug that let callers eavesdrop on the people they were calling, whether or not the person on the other end picked up or was even aware a call was coming in. The process isn’t exactly easy, involving adding your own number to a Group FaceTime call after dialing, but it’s not something out of the realm of inadvertently implementing it either.”

A few days after the bug was reported to Apple’s security team, Apple finally jumped on it. Simon comments on an amusing twist of fate.

“The irony of all this is that the bug was discovered on Data Privacy Day, which was marked with a tweet by CEO Tim Cook saying “The dangers are real and the consequences are too important.” It’s hard to argue with those words, especially when it’s your own iPhone that poses the danger.”

So when can we expect a fix from Apple?

CNBC queried Apple on this breaking security issue and got the following terse response.

“We’re aware of this issue and we have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week.”

Macworld apparently got the same or a similar response. Michael Simon relates what happened next.

“At first, Apple merely said they were aware of the bug and would be issuing a fix this week. Being that it was only Monday, that could be as many as five days, an eternity when a nasty bug is out in the wild. About a half hour later, Apple did the right thing: They disabled Group FaceTime via its servers so someone couldn’t try out the bug even if they wanted to. There’s not even a need to disable FaceTime (though I wouldn’t blame you if you still wanted to).”

Jon Rossignol follows up on Macrumors, another popular, longtime Mac-centric website.

“As a result, it is no longer possible to add your personal phone number to a Group FaceTime call, which was the underlying cause of the bug. Multiple editors on our team have confirmed being unable to add a phone number to a FaceTime call. One-on-one FaceTime calls continue to work normally.”

As a user, what can you do to protect your privacy now?

Just in case you’re super-paranoid about your privacy – like this writer is – CNBC writer Todd Haselton offers this simple, drastic, but effective fix.

“To be extra safe, here’s how you can turn off FaceTime on your iPhone to prevent anyone from trying to snoop on you in the meantime.

  • Open Settings.
  • Choose FaceTime.
  • Toggle the button so that FaceTime is off (there’s no green showing.)”

Haselton notes that this brutal but temporary fix effectively disables FaceTime until you reactivate it again at your discretion. As in, when Apple comes up with an iOS rev that eliminates the issue.

Apple and others claim the fix will arrive sometime this week, so iPhone (and, by extension, iPad) users should stay tuned. BTW, after just getting a notification on my iPhone, I downloaded and installed the latest iOS version, 12.1.3. It doesn’t seem to include the FaceTime bug fix. My guess is that the fix will happen in iOS update version 12.1.4. So iPhone users should be on the lookout.

What will the FaceTime security glitch do to Apple stock?

Apple (trading symbol: AAPL) has had its share of problems lately. iPhone sales are down, particularly due to lagging sales in China. It’s also alerted investors that FY 2019 sales and profit numbers will likely come in sub-par as a result. This caused investors to hammer the stock mercilessly over the last few weeks.

Ironically, Apple will report its latest quarterly numbers Tuesday afternoon after the stock market closes at 4 p.m. ET. Now, with this security bug piling onto the earlier negative news, Apple’s shares could take another beating in after-hours trading Tuesday with a follow through at Wednesday morning’s opening bell.

Apple shares are currently up fractionally and stand at $156.51 as we write this article at 1:05 p.m. ET. AAPL generally gets clobbered each quarter after the company announces its numbers, whether they’re good or bad. It’s always weird. So, traders and investors, your guess is as good as mine as to what happens to Apple’s shares after today.

— Headline image: Apple iPhone X model splash screen.
Via Apple’s main website. Fair use.


Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17