Apple disables FaceTime after users complain of security breach

Yesterday, January 29, Apple disabled the FaceTime group calling feature
temporarily, after users complained about a serious security breach. Apple had introduced the highly demanded and much-anticipated feature–group calling on FaceTime on audio or video up to 32 people, including yourself–in its latest iOS 12 update for iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks.

What was the security issue?

While the FaceTime update was well-received, Apple has come under fire for a security bug; it allowed users to listen in on people they were calling even if the call hadn’t been answered. CNBC explains, “The bug appears to fool a call recipient’s phone into thinking a group call, which involves more than two people, has already started. It then switches the recipient’s microphone on without them ever having to accept or reject the call.” The recipient’s phone does not indicate that it is emitting audio to others either.
CNN reported that the bug is also able to transmit live video if the recipient presses a volume button to dismiss the call.

First reported by the YouTube channel 9to5Mac, news of this security glitch spread online and complaints from users began pouring in. This, finally, prompted Apple to disable the group-calling feature, but users can still use FaceTime for one-on-one calls. Media sources began to post instructions
online on how to disable FaceTime on one’s Apple device to protect privacy.

A spokesperson for Apple said, “We’re aware of this issue and have identified a fix that will be released in a software update later this week.”

Why is this breach significant?

For Apple, this controversy spells financial trouble because it comes a day before its quarterly results call, an already contentious issue. The Guardian reports, “Cook blamed a slowdown in China for the reduction in earnings, and cited a battery replacement programme, foreign exchange fluctuations, and the end of carrier subsidies for new phones as compounding factors.”

Various tech companies have been in the spotlight lately for a variety of security concerns. In 2018, Facebook was involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal where a third-party gained access to Facebook users’ data by using a quiz app. Facebook came under fire again after discovering another security issue—hackers accessing information from a weak link in the site’s code related to its “View As” feature. Over 50 million people were at risk from the latter.

India’s share of security concerns

Indians also dealt with their own privacy and security issues. Zomato, a food delivery mobile app, suffered a security breach when records of 17 million users were stolen from its database, including information on email addresses and passwords.

Last year, as the government tried to bring in Aadhaar, people became worried at the possibility of information leaking, hacking of the Aadhaar database, and government highhandedness if it had access to personal details of every citizen.

The Wire writes, “In the Supreme Court, the right to privacy was upheld unanimously by a nine-judge bench in 2017. Privacy is one of the major considerations with regards to the Aadhaar project, the other being the denial of rights…”

As humans become increasingly reliant on technology, security breaches and glitches become grave concerns for one’s safety and well-being. Hence, we need to be aware of various apps and sites’ privacy and data collection policies, and take measures to protect passwords and information. In the current climate, it’s the best way to protect ourselves against unforeseen security problems.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius