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By 21 April 2011 | Categories: news

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Security researchers Allan Alasdair and Pete Warden made quite a shocking discovery this week, with the data scientists finding that Apple's iPhone secretly keeps track of every step you take.

Apparently consumers using an iPhone or 3G iPad is regularly having their position recorded into a hidden file, which is then saved to their computer when the devices are connected. The file contains latitude and longitude information of the device's coordinates alongside a timestamp, meaning someone who steals your phone or computer could gain accurate details of your movements by exploiting a simple program.

The recording of data seems to have started with the release of iOS 4 last June, meaning that some devices may hold as much as a year's worth of stored data. The real issue is that these files are unencrypted and unprotected, and that they're being copied to any machine you sync with your iOS device.

According to the researchers, all iPhones appear to log one's location to a file named “consolidated.db”, containing latitude and longitude information as well as a timestamp. They suspect that your location is determined by cell-tower triangulation.

This doesn't mean you have to panic and chuck your iPhone, as no immediate harm seems to come from the availability of the data. There is also no evidence that the data is leaving your custody, except if your phone or device that was synced to gets stolen of course. The real question is why Apple is storing this data.

According to the researchers, cellphone companies have always had access to this kind of data, but a court order is needed for anyone to be able to access it. In Apple's case though the data is accessible (as was proven) by anyone with a knack for some nosy programming.

The researchers have even built an application that allows iPhone users to access their own tracking data and see exactly what their little device have recorded about their movements. The application is available here, with source code and more technical information also accessible.

If you are concerned about the security of your data, one thing users can do is encrypt their backups through iTunes. Simply click on your device in iTunes and select the 'Encrypt iPhone Backup' checkbox under Options.  

Alasdair and Warden presented their findings at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco this Wednesday, you can view a video of it here

 

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