Experience

Facetime bugs out

Teen discovers disturbing flaw in Apple software

Nick Campbell, @nicky_charles

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Millions of iPhone users were exposed to a privacy nightmare over the last week in the form of a software glitch. With the recent launch of iOS 12.1, Apple added the ability to use its Facetime video chat feature on a group chat. A serious security flaw was soon discovered in the software.

The flaw allows a user to place a group conference call using Facetime, and if the other user doesn’t pick up, it would give the caller access to the phones audio and video. It was discovered by a 14 year old teen named Grant Thompson in Arizona.

Thompson went to place a Facetime call to his friends to discuss a Fortnite game session. During the call he discovered that when his friend didn’t answer, he noticed he could hear his friends conversation and see his friends video feed. He alerted his friend to the bug and then notified his mother, Michelle Thompson, an attorney in Tucson, Arizona.

Oddly enough, when Thompson tried to alert Apple to the flaw, they initially ignored her.  As news spread of the bug across social media and the news, many people began to worry. Many long time FaceTime users like Los Medanos College student Martanay Henry uses the app to keep in touch with friends.

“When I first heard about the problem, I was really worried strangers could tap into my iPhone,” says Henry.

More details and actions have since emerged regarding the software flaw. Apple has since disabled the conference call feature on FaceTime until a software fix is ready for deployment. Currently, it doesn’t appear that the flaw can be exploited randomly by strangers. The flaw affects call to call between users and they must be initiated.

The Apple Store in Walnut Creek was bustling as usual. Speaking from the “Genius Bar,” which is like an in-store tech support kiosk, Jesus Lopez assured customers about the pending fix.

“Apple is currently in the process of patching the FaceTime bug and users should expect an update in the upcoming week,” said Lopez.

From the perspective of cellular service providers, the customer panic has been less severe. Store Manager Rodrigo Martinez of Verizon Wireless states that not many customers have inquired about the bug so far.

“I think since the flaw is directly related to Apple and its device, not many customers are seeing a link between the bug and their cell service,” said Martinez.

One can only wonder how such a huge flaw could be exploited. Apple is infamous for its tight security on its mobile and computer platforms. Viruses and spyware are not typically linked to Apple software, so how did such a huge bug hit their operating system? It’s something above most of our pay grades, but Apple is surely scrambling to correct the issue.

Meanwhile, Apple executives have met privately with the Thompson family and thanked them for bringing the flaw to Apple’s attention. In a strange twist, it appears the teen Grant Thompson could potentially be eligible for a relatively mum program Apple offers called the “Bug Bounty” program.

Depending on the severity of the bug or flaw, customers can net anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000. Not a bad payday for checking on your Fortnite friends. Information about the Bug Bounty program can be found at: https://developer.apple.com/bug-reporting/

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Facetime bugs out