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Scientists have learned to track gadgets using BLE signals

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Devices can be tracked by prints of their physical characteristics.

In the past few years, mobile devices have become more likely to use the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol to transfer messages, which can pose a significant privacy risk, experts at UC San Diego warn.

Within the framework of research they examined the implementation of BLE in a number of popular models of smartphones, laptops and gadgets and found that devices can be traced back to their physical characteristics. The bottom line is that devices can have a unique fingerprint that can be used to determine where they were and when.

BLE messaging has become more common in phones, laptops, smartwatches and other gadgets due to the support of operating devices for functions such as Apple Continuity or Find My, which imply the use of the BLE standard.

Typically, applications using this protocol try to hide identifiable data by encrypting the device’s MAC address, but this does not help to hide the built-in hardware characteristics of the device, based on which it can be identified.

Experts have tested their theory on several devices, including the iPhone 10, Thinkpad X1 Carbon (Windows), MacBook Pro 2016 (macOS), Apple Watch 4 (watchOS), Google Pixel 5 (Android), and Bose QuietComfort 35. In most cases, they were able to get a fingerprint of the physical BLE chip and distinguish one device from another.

In the course of the study, the scientists faced some difficulties, for example, it turned out to be more difficult to distinguish devices operating on the same chipset model than to distinguish gadgets based on different chips. The device’s ability to identify was also influenced by its temperature and signal transmission power.

Using special equipment, the researchers intercepted BLE signals from 162 devices in public places and were able to identify 40% of them. In addition, the group recorded BLE signals from bystanders’ devices with COVID-19 tracking apps from Apple and Google for two days for 10 hours. Scientists managed to “uniquely identify” 47.1% of 647 MAC addresses.

In theory, the method can be used to track the Apple AirTag and Samsung SmartTag Plus Bluetooth trackers, the researchers noted.

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Instagram said it is strengthening the protection of its underage users

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The head of Instagram is due to speak at a hearing in the US Congress on December 7 and talk about the measures taken by his service to protect children.

Tuesday, December 7th, Instagram administration stated the intention to carefully select the content recommended for teens and to nudge them to other areas if they get hung up on one thing. On its blog, the service announced a few more changes that will affect teenagers.

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri is due to speak at a hearing in the US Congress on Wednesday, December 7, and talk about the measures taken by his service to protect children online.

Recently, Instagram and parent company Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook) have come under fire for the potential harm to the mental health and safety of children online.

According to Mosseri, Instagram will disable the ability for users to tag or mention teenagers who are not their followers. Starting in January 2022, teenagers will have the opportunity to massively delete their content, previously set “likes” and written comments.

The service looked at control tools to limit potentially harmful or sensitive content to teens through search, hashtags, short videos (Reels) and featured pages, Mosseri said.

Instagram is also launching a Take a Break feature for users in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, which will remind users to distract themselves if the user is stuck in the app for a long time.

In March 2022, Instagram will launch its first parental control tool that will allow parents and guardians to see how much time a teen is spending on the app.

In September of this year, the Instagram administration decided to postpone the launch of the version of the application for children for now, and now the press service of the service has confirmed that the Instagram management does not intend to return to this project yet.

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Israeli authorities strengthen oversight of cyber technology exports

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The move follows a series of scandals involving Israeli spyware developer NSO Group.

Israel’s Defense Export Control Agency has decided to tighten oversight over the export of offensive cyber products. Companies buying Israeli cyber technologies will have to sign a declaration to use the products “only for the investigation and prevention of terrorist attacks and serious crimes.” Countries that violate the terms of use may be subject to sanctions, “including restricting and / or shutting down the cyber system.”

As the Associated Press reported, the decision was made just days after another NSO Group spyware scandal. US diplomats in Uganda have been targeted by a software tool developed by the NSO Group. Spyware, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, has been used to hack iPhone smartphones by at least nine US foreign policy officials.

The NSO Group has faced a flood of international criticism over accusations that it helps governments spy on political opponents and human rights defenders. However, according to the company itself, its product is intended solely to help countries in the fight against crime and terrorism. Israel’s Defense Ministry has also drastically reduced the list of countries to which Israeli companies are allowed to sell their cyber technology. If earlier the list included 102 countries, now it has been reduced to 37. In particular, Israel’s new allies Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, in which cases of human rights violations are known, were excluded from it.

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Life360 service is suspected of selling geodata of children to third parties

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The company is one of the largest providers of confidential information on the personal data market.

Specialists of the non-profit organization The Markup spent investigation into the service Life360, which allows tracking the geolocation of children. As it turned out, the company is one of the largest providers of confidential information in the personal data market.

The Markup contacted two former employees of the so-called “data brokers” Cuebiq and X-Mode. Life360 made about $ 16 million in 2020 from selling user data to dozens of different companies, according to whistleblowers. In addition, two former Life360 employees also told the organization about the company’s additional source of income.

According to a former X-Mode employee, the raw location data from Life360 was one of the most valuable offerings on the market due to the sheer volume and accuracy of the data. A former Cuebiq employee joked that the company would not be able to carry out its marketing campaigns without the constant stream of location data from Life360.

The privacy policy of the application specifies the transfer of personal data, but the wording of the document actually allows the company to “transfer information to third parties in a form that allows you to identify the user.”

The functionality of the service allows you to prohibit the transfer of data, but this is not directly communicated to the user. This function is hidden in several sub-items of the settings, and consent to the use of information for commercial purposes is activated by default.

Whistleblowers said the company did not maintain adequate user anonymity and only removed names or home addresses prior to the sale. The rest of the information made it possible to easily identify the identity of the user. Any organization could become a buyer of data from Life360; the company did not enter into transactions only with government agencies.

The founder of the company, Chris Hulls (Chris Hulls) was unable to confirm or deny the results of the investigation.

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