Apple Device ID Leak Traced To BlueToad
Stolen IDs did not come from FBI, as claimed by AntiSec, but from a Florida-based app publisher that issued an apology and said it is no longer collecting UDID data.
The source of the database containing a million Apple device identifiers that was published online last week by hacking group AntiSec was identified on Monday as BlueToad, an app publisher and analytics provider based in Orlando, Florida.
AntiSec said it had obtained the database from the FBI, which subsequently disputed that claim.
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Security researcher David Schuetz, who works for the Intrepidus Group, says he identified BlueToad from patterns in the database itself.
In a blog post published on Monday, he explains how he sorted the data, identified some 15,000 duplicated UDID numbers and then linked some of those numbers to BlueToad.
[ For more background on the Apple UDID leak, read FBI, AntiSec Spar On Apple IDs. ]
Schuetz found names in the database that were shared by BlueToad employees and also discovered passwords from the company that had been leaked online. "While searching, I stumbled on a partial password dump for the company!" he noted in his blog post. "And it was dated March 14, the same week that the hackers claimed they'd hacked into the FBI computer."
Last Wednesday, in response to queries, Hutch Hicken, BlueToad's CIO, contacted Schuetz and the company began working on a response. On Monday, CEO Paul DeHart acknowledged that Blue Toad's systems had been compromised last week and that the list of Apple UDIDs came from its servers.
"We have fixed the vulnerability and are working around the clock to ensure that a security breach doesn't happen again," DeHart said in a blog post. "In doing so, we have engaged an independent and nationally-recognized security assurance company to assist in our ongoing efforts. We sincerely apologize to our partners, clients, publishers, employees and users of our apps."
DeHart claims that BlueToad does not collect sensitive personal information like credit card or social security numbers, and that the company, following Apple's recommendation earlier this year, modified its app code base to stop the reporting of UDID numbers. And now, he says, BlueToad has stopped storing UDID data sent to its servers by apps that have not yet incorporated BlueToad's new analytics code.
UDIDs are numbers used to uniquely identify iOS devices. The privacy implications of UDIDs were raised in news reports and lawsuits in 2010 and onward, and Apple has since designated the UDID API for discontinuation (through Apple itself may still choose to use UDIDs for its software). iOS devices have other identifiers like a serial number, and those with radio circuitry have other identifiers, such as International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI), Integrated Circuit Card ID (ICCID), or Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID). Generally, these are not available to developers if they follow Apple's rules.
UDID numbers may not in and of themselves be considered personal information under privacy laws, but security researcher Aldo Cortesi has shown that they can be de-anonymized and linked to usernames, email addresses, GPS locations, and even Facebook profiles.
Back in 2006, when AOL released data on 20 million search queries, researchers were similarly able to connect the dots and identify people from anonymous information. The BlueToad breach underscores the fact that even seemingly anonymous information can pose a privacy risk.
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