iPhone fixes GPS tracker “bug” but you are still being tracked

By Dark Politricks

By now you should have heard about the scandal surrounding consolidated.db the iPhone database that logs your GPS location to a file on your phone.

This database of all your GPS locations can be used to track your movements as most people take their phones everywhere they go and this functionality can be used to help provide certain geolocation services such as applications to provide the location of nearby restaurants or shops or to help emergency services find you when you make a 911 / 999 call.

However the downside is that this logging can also be used by the Police and other security forces to track your recent movements. They have already been caught doing this illegally in Michigan when they downloaded smart phone geolocation data without the users knowledge after pulling over motorists over for minor traffic violations.

By using handheld mobile forensics devices the police have been able to quickly steal the relevant databases from the users smart phone and quickly determine their recent movements. Sources in the UK have also told me that the Police in this country also regularly take this data from iPhones and other smart phones when arrested persons hand in their belongings during their stay in Police custody and hackers and security experts have already proven ways in which all outbound phone traffic can be tricked into sending their traffic to false phone towers which could be used by private investigators or hackers.

If you think because you don’t use an iPhone or have downloaded the latest OS for the iPhone that many people have called a “bug” that you’re safe from this behaviour then you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Taken from arstechnica.com

Apple also triangulates your location from cell phone towers and logs that information in order to help get a faster GPS lock (or to find your location without GPS if you’re getting bad GPS signal).

Allan and Warden point out in their iPhone Tracker FAQ that this is indeed the method Apple is using in the consolidated.db file, and this is also the reason users might see strange iPhone Tracker dots in places they haven’t been.

“As far as we can tell, the location is determined by triangulating against the nearest cell-phone towers. This isn’t as accurate as GPS, but presumably takes less power,” they wrote. “In some cases it can get very confused and temporarily think you’re several miles from your actual location, but these tend to be intermittent glitches.”

Users don’t get to decide whether their locations are tracked via cell towers or not—unlike GPS, there is no setting that lets users turn it off, there’s no explicit consent every time it happens, and there’s no way to block the logging

So, whether or not you’re using GPS, if you’re using your iPhone as a cell phone, you are being tracked and logged constantly without your knowledge.

So even if you have wiped your consolidated.db database, turned GPS off or bought another smart phone you are still being tracked by your cellphone company using cellphone tower triangulation and this data is being stored for years at a time on their huge databases just waiting to be handed over to anyone with the right court order or warrant.

The fact that this tracking goes on and that the data is being held by your phone company is nothing new and if like me you have ever had the the unfortunate experience of being involved in a court case involving conspiracy you will be quite shocked when during disclosure your brief shows you a history of all your phone calls between co-defendants.

This log contains not only the time the call took place and the length of the call but the location the call was made from. I was made aware of this logging way back in 1998 so the fact that it’s taken 13+ years for people to be made aware of this fact is the more scary aspect of this story in my view.

So remember people just because you have downloaded the latest iPhone patch you are not safe from being logged by your phone company and this data is easily obtainable by anyone with enough authority or power who wants it.

The Police and various security forces have previously admitted remotely accessing suspects mobile phones enabling GPS to track them, use the inbuilt speaker microphone to listen to them and track them without their knowledge.

From a BBC News report from 2004.

But today’s spies are also able to convert conventional phones into bugs without the owners’ knowledge.

Mobiles communicate with their base station on a frequency separate from the one used for talking. If you have details of the frequencies and encryption codes being used you can listen in to what is being said in the immediate vicinity of any phone in the network.

According to some reports, intelligence services do not even need to obtain permission from the networks to get their hands on the codes and also according to one security expert, telephone systems are often fitted with “back doors” enabling them to be activated at a later date to pick up sounds even when the receiver is down.

So provided it is switched on, a mobile sitting on the desk of a politician, businessman, terrorist, criminal or just a person under suspicion because of the all invasive PATRIOT act  can act as a powerful, undetectable bug.

From schneier.com

The U.S. Commerce Department’s security office warns that “a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.” An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can “remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner’s knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call.”

Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government agencies. “They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time,” he said. “You can do that without having physical access to the phone.”

The only way to live in the modern digital age without being tracked by your smart phone, Google, the advertisers that appear on all the big websites and your ISP is by either going without all these gadgets and tools or minimising the risk by protecting yourself as much as possible.

Things like:

  • Not using technology when discussing important information. Talking in a park or secluded area face to face is probably the safest way to communicate if you are worried that someone might be listening in to your conversations.
  • Using throwaway unregistered SIM cards on Payasugo phones without GPS technology.
  • Taking the battery out of your phone whenever you don’t want to be tracked. As the earlier report shows cellphone triangulation tracking takes less power than GPS tracking and even when your phone is turned off a tiny amount of battery charge is available to the phone which is enough to log your presence at a nearby tower and then log your presence down to the nearest 100 metres or so.
  • Use pay phones, or pay strangers and ask passers by to use their phone when you need to make a call when your phone is unavailable.
  • Use throwaway or disposable email accounts to send emails and to sign up to message boards or sites that require verification.
  • Use search tools like Scroogle or Super Search to search Google, Yahoo and Bing at the same  time anonymously without Google tracking or your search requests being logged.
  • Use anonymisers and proxy servers to hide your web use or even create your own one with the many freely available down-loadable scripts that you can setup on your websites or on rented servers in other countries.
  • Turn off 3rd party cookies (cookies set by advertisers or other scripts not part of the webpage you are visiting), disable Javascript until you know it’s safe and remember any ActiveX, OBJECT, APPLET or Flash movie can be used to track you if they wanted to. This page details all the various methods that web pages can track you.

Remember unless you want to go an live in the woods without phones, computers and other modern technology then all these great technological advances should be seen as double edged swords and used carefully.

Whilst it’s 99% likely you are not going to be subjected to covert intelligence gathering by the authorities it is also good to wise up to the possibility that if for whatever reason you are then the tools you consider invaluable at the moment such as iPhones and computers will be the same ones that convict you at any trial.


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