Apple to fix FaceTime bug that allows eavesdropping

Updated 30 January 2019

Apple to fix FaceTime bug that allows eavesdropping

  • Apple announced the feature last summer, but then removed it from early test versions of its iOS 12 operating system

CALIFORNIA: Apple has disabled a group-chat function in FaceTime after users said a software bug could let callers activate another person’s microphone remotely.
With the bug, a FaceTime user calling another iPhone, iPad or Mac computer could hear audio — even if the receiver did not accept the call. The bug is triggered when callers add themselves to the same call to launch a group chat. That makes FaceTime think the receiver had accepted the chat.
The bug, demonstrated through videos online , comes as an embarrassment for a company that is trying to distinguish itself by stressing its commitment to users’ privacy.
“This is a big hit to their brand,” said Dave Kennedy, CEO of Ohio-based security firm TrustedSec. “There’s been a long period of time people could have used that to eavesdrop. These things definitely should be caught prior to ever being released.”
There is no longer a danger from this particular bug as Apple disabled group chats, while regular, one-on-one FaceTime remains available.
NBC News and The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the family of a 14-year-old high school student in Tucson, Arizona, tried to inform Apple about the bug more than a week before it became widely known to the public. The boy, Grant Thompson, said he discovered it by accident while calling friends to play the game “Fortnite.”
It’s hard to know if anyone exploited the bug maliciously, said Erka Koivunen, chief information security officer for Finnish company F-Secure. He said it would have been hard to use the bug to spy on someone, as the phone would ring first — and it’s easy to identify who called.
Apple said Tuesday that a fix will come in a software update later this week. Apple declined to say when it learned about the problem. The company also wouldn’t say if it has logs that could show if anyone took advantage of the bug before it became publicly known this week.
Kennedy commended Apple’s quick response this week following reports of the bug by tech blogs. He predicted the reputational dent could soon be forgotten if it doesn’t become part of a pattern.
“All bugs are obvious in retrospect,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The truth is bugs are subtle, code is complicated and sometimes things get through.”
Galperin said Apple should develop a better process for fielding reports about potential security flaws. She said the 14-year-old’s discovery of the problem “just tells us a lot about reporting security bugs depends on knowing the right person.”
Apple had introduced the 32-person video conferencing feature in October for iPhones, iPads and Macs. Regular FaceTime calls aren’t affected unless the caller turns it into a group chat.
Word of the bug came as Apple reported that profit for the last three months of 2018 dipped slightly to $20 billion while revenue fell 5 percent from the prior year to $84 billion. Earlier this month, Apple said that demand for iPhones was waning and that its earnings for the final quarter of 2018 would be below its own forecasts — a rare downgrade from the company.


Russia to send ‘Fedor’ its first humanoid robot into space

Updated 22 August 2019

Russia to send ‘Fedor’ its first humanoid robot into space

MOSCOW: Russia was set to launch on Thursday an unmanned rocket carrying a life-size humanoid robot that will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station.
Named Fedor, for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research with identification number Skybot F850, the robot is the first ever sent up by Russia.
Fedor was to blast off in a Soyuz rocket at 6:38 am Moscow time (0338 GMT) from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, dock with the space station on Saturday and stay till September 7.
The Soyuz spacecraft is normally manned on such trips, but on Thursday no humans will be traveling in order to test a new emergency rescue system.
Instead of cosmonauts, Fedor will sit in a specially adapted pilot’s seat.
The silvery anthropomorphic robot stands one meter 80 centimeters tall (5 foot 11 inches) and weighs 160 kilograms (353 lbs).
Fedor has Instagram and Twitter accounts that describe it as learning new skills such as opening a bottle of water. In the station, it will trial those manual skills in very low gravity.
“That’s connecting and disconnecting electric cables, using standard items from a screwdriver and a spanner to a fire extinguisher,” the Russian space agency’s director for prospective programs and science, Alexander Bloshenko, said in televised comments.
Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts or even people on Earth carry out tasks while they are strapped into an exoskeleton.
Such robots will eventually carry out dangerous operations such as space walks, Bloshenko told RIA Novosti state news agency.
On the website of one of the state backers of the project, the Foundation of Advanced Research Projects, Fedor is described as potentially useful on Earth for working in high radiation environments, de-mining and tricky rescue missions.
On board, the robot will perform tasks supervised by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, who joined the ISS last month, and will wear an exoskeleton in a series of experiments scheduled for later this month.

Robonaut 2, Kirobo
Space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin showed pictures of the robot to President Vladimir Putin this month, saying it will be “an assistant to the crew.”
“In the future we plan that this machine will also help us conquer deep space,” he added.
Fedor is not the first robot to go into space.
In 2011, NASA sent up Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot developed with General Motors and a similar aim of working in high-risk environments.
It was flown back to Earth in 2018 after experiencing technical problems.
In 2013, Japan sent up a small robot called Kirobo along with the ISS’s first Japanese space commander. Developed with Toyota, it was able to hold conversations — albeit only in Japanese.