Update Your iOS Immediately to Fix That Horrible FaceTime Bug

Apple has just released iOS 12.1.4, which addresses a FaceTime group chat bug that allowed callers to eavesdrop on their targets.

Apple has just released a fix for the Group FaceTime eavesdropping flaw. You should immediately install it on your iPhone or iPad.

This week, the privacy-eroding flaw in Apple’s calling platform set the internet ablaze with warnings and recommendations for protecting users. In response, New York state attorney general Letitia James initiated an investigation. The vulnerability allowed users to activate the microphone and even the camera on any FaceTime-enabled phone and listen in before the recipient answered. Apple took the extreme step of disabling group FaceTime until it could release a fix in response to public outcry. A week later, this update is now available.

Apple said in a statement last week, “We sincerely apologize to our customers who were affected and to everyone concerned about this security issue.” We appreciate the patience of everyone as we complete this procedure.

The update has just begun rolling out, so do not worry if you have not yet seen it. If iOS does not prompt you to install the update, navigate to Settings > General > Software Update. Select Download and Install, and then follow the on-screen instructions. Your device must have a minimum of 50 percent charge or be plugged in. You can also connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer (no judgment, some people still do this) and use iTunes to download the update.

Patrick Wardle, the co-founder of Digita Security, affirms, “Install the update immediately.” “At the end of the day, Apple cares most about its stock price and sales, so I’m optimistic that this will finally encourage Apple to improve its approach. When security is a threat to that, it becomes a priority, so it’s a win-win situation.”

“Apple’s acceptance of this and numerous other bugs in production code is inexcusable.” – PATRICK WARDLE, DIGITA SECURITY

The bug was caused by a flaw in the logic of FaceTime’s group calling feature, which Apple introduced at the end of 2018 in conjunction with the release of its iOS 12 mobile operating system. Apple focused on unspectacular stability improvements for Mojave and iOS 12 rather than its customary flashy new features in 2018 in response to a series of horrifyingly stupid iOS and macOS bugs that plagued the company in 2017. In the past, the company’s strategy has produced some of its most beloved operating systems, such as Snow Leopard, the 2011 version of OS X.

Consequently, group video and audio calls were one of iOS 12’s few standout features. FaceTime calls are end-to-end encrypted, meaning that only devices participating in the call can decipher them. And while end-to-end encrypted calling has become easier to implement and more dependable, it is still difficult to guarantee it on a platform like FaceTime, particularly for group calls with multiple participants. Apple spent years perfecting encrypted group FaceTime chats; the fact that it had to be temporarily disabled due to a privacy flaw is a major setback. Reports that an Arizona teenager had alerted Apple about the flaw days before the company’s public response also prompted criticism.

“What worries me is that there is evidence that Apple was notified beforehand,” says Thomas Reed, director of Mac and mobile security for the company Malwarebytes. “I know and respect the Product Security team, but I wonder if there was opposition to shutting down the service from higher-ups.”

As the company continues to tout its safety and privacy credentials, Apple’s security gaffes have become increasingly problematic. Moreover, the bugs put user information at risk. While perfection is unattainable, Apple appears to be making an increasing number of avoidable errors.

“All software will contain bugs,” says Wardle. “However, it is inexcusable that Apple permits this and numerous other bugs to enter production code. They have the time and resources to conduct adequate quality and assurance testing, but they frequently prioritize usability and getting features to market over security and thorough testing. There have been other similar bugs that have left us all perplexed.”

Apple can still distribute updates to its devices with ease and achieve widespread adoption. (But not so much Android.) Therefore, if you own an iPhone or iPad, install the patch immediately.

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