Recently, just about the most unsettling bug that could be possibly imagined happened with Apple’s FaceTime software. The bug allows a caller to instantly receive audio and video from the phone they are making a call to, before that person they are calling even has a chance to answer or not answer the call.
So people were trying to FaceTime others, and they’d instantly be granted access to that phone’s microphone, and even the front-facing camera of that person, before they answer. So no matter what the person receiving the call was doing, the person calling may intrude upon their privacy in the most unpredictable way, just by calling them.
It was popularized by 9to5Mac, and then more articles were written to spread word of the incredibly invasive bug.
It was reported that anyone with FaceTime could listen in on the activities of any iOS user, posing a ridiculously massive privacy issue. That may have been a broad way of phrasing the issue, to say that “anyone” with FaceTime could tap into the bug, but it just might be prolific enough to say that a lot of users experienced this.
I just replicated the issue – on top of that, if you “join” the call using your invitation on another device (in this case another iPhone) you also get video!! Even though the call is still ringing / not answered on the destination device.
— Jessassin (@Jessassin) January 29, 2019
Three entire days have passed since the bug started, and now Apple is facing a formal investigation from the New York Attorney General over the fact that “Apple failed to warn people about the security flaw and didn’t address the issue quickly.”
Letitia James, New York Attorney General said on Twitter:
“We’re launching an investigation into Apple’s failure to warn consumers about the FaceTime privacy breach & their slow response to addressing the issue.
New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between their private communications & their privacy rights.”
FaceTime’s bug is currently believed to affect any pair of Apple mobile devices that are running iOS 12.1 or later. The problem was prolific enough for the bug to be easily replicated, and so an iPhone called a phone number linked to FaceTime on a Mac running Mojave, and the same thing happened.
The Mac rings for a longer duration of time than an iPhone, which means that a person using one with this bug can eavesdrop for even longer, raising more concern.
Me: Damn why they calling me!?
Them: 🗣I CAN HEAR YOU
Also Me: pic.twitter.com/IvYSSxWn0s
— Young Al (@_youngal1911) January 30, 2019
At least people who are going to receive a surveillance intrusion will be warned, because the phone still rings like normal. Until the bug is fixed by Apple, people would be well advised to put some duct tape on their microphones and cameras if they own iOS devices with FaceTime, or FaceTime on a Mac.
If the bug is still happening, any time a phone or computer shows a FaceTime request, be aware it could be instantly transmitting your audio and video both to the person calling you on the other end.
9to5Mac reported on the bug, and then lots of iOS users quickly realized they could replicate the bug and trigger the transmission of video without the permission of the person on the other end. Ironically the video is triggered in specific when the recipient of the call presses their power button from the lock screen.
If they do that, video is sent to the caller, while they are unaware because they still see the accept and decline call options. Instructions were given to people on how to trigger the bug if they want to test it:
More to the point, there’s a threshold that is crossed by this type of occurrence. It’s possible for that camera and microphone you’re constantly carrying to be turned on at any time.
— dvlpr (@dvIpr) January 30, 2019
People would be well advised to keep their cameras and microphones taped and rendered disabled at any time they are not in use.
It may seem overly precautious, or to people who don’t understand certain things, paranoid. However, this type of bug can be interpreted as a slap in the face from reality, suggesting people recognize the scope of possibility with this type of technology.