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Despite being painted as a device with sophisticated security, the iPhone‘s Bluetooth setup makes it prone to spam, which can bring users absolute inconvenience. A security researcher called “Anthony” demonstrated this in a recent post.

The researcher explained that Apple‘s devices heavily rely on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol. This allows the devices to communicate or announce their presence via advertising packets. This is a huge help for Apple’s devices to establish the seamless connectivity experience of the brand.

The protocol, however, can be used by a hacking device called “Flipper Zero,” which can deliver fake advertising packets to devices when customized with codes. This is the device shown in the researcher’s demo, who called the attack a “Bluetooth advertising assault.”

As the blog (via TechCrunch) explains, the device can spoof the advertising packets of legitimate devices, resulting in “a plethora of phantom devices in the vicinity of an iOS user.” With this, as shown in the demo, the iPhone will repeatedly receive Bluetooth advertisement pop-ups. Although they can be canceled, the pop-ups will continue to appear as long as the receiving device (iPhone) is within the range of the Flipper Zero.

It is important to note, however, that Flipper Zero has a very limited range. Yet, the researcher claimed to devise another attack with a range of thousands of feet. (The researcher, nonetheless, refused to divulge it to TechCrunch due to concerns and possible issues that may arise through it.)

The solution for this is to deactivate the device’s Bluetooth, but it won’t be that simple for iPhones. To recall, Apple made a change in the iOS 11 update, making the Bluetooth icon in the Control Center a temporary solution for disabling the function. This means using the option will only put the Bluetooth on time out, allowing it to activate automatically the next morning. With this, Apple users have to go to their Settings app and deactivate the connectivity from there in order to effectively disable Bluetooth.

This isn’t the only problem with Apple’s Bluetooth system, though, as underlined by the researcher. According to Anthony, Apple has to ensure that the Bluetooth devices trying to connect to iPhones are legitimate, explaining the iPhone’s vulnerability in the attack. The researcher also suggested reducing range, where Apple devices will receive connectivity prompts from other Bluetooth devices.

In the end, while Anthony said that the attack is just a proof-of-concept as guidance for Apple and that other individuals might only perform this for pranks or research purposes, he didn’t deny that it could also be used maliciously for phishing attacks.

“For iOS users, this mimicry can be more than just an annoyance,” the researcher explained. “It can lead to confusion, disrupt workflows, and in rare cases, pose security concerns. It underscores the importance of being aware of the devices around us and the potential vulnerabilities inherent in wireless communications.”

This research performed by Anthony is not new. Recently, another researcher who attended the 2023 DEF CON conducted a separate experiment with BLE advertisement packets to spoof iPhones within the event with pop-ups, requesting users to connect to an Apple TV (and also an Apple keyboard) or share their password to the device. Instead of Flipper Zero, however, the researcher used a $70 customized device. The individual stressed that the experiment meant no harm and no data was gathered, but added that its aim was “to remind people to really shut off Bluetooth (I.e. not from control center) and to have a laugh.”


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