Anonymous-linked hackers with an anti-security group claimed on Sept. 3 to have stolen sensitive information on more than 12 million Apple devices and their users from an FBI-issued laptop, releasing one million redacted records from the file as proof.
The FBI denied that the file came from the agency and refuted claims that a computer at the agency had been the source of the file.
"The FBI is aware of published reports alleging that an FBI laptop was compromised and private data regarding Apple UDIDs was exposed," an FBI spokesperson said in a statement emailed to eWEEK. "At this time, there is no evidence indicating that an FBI laptop was compromised or that the FBI either sought or obtained this data."
The file includes the unique device identifier (UDID), the Apple Push Notification Service token, and the device name and type. While the original file allegedly contained more sensitive information-including, in some cases, full name, mobile-phone numbers, and addresses-UDIDs are widely used as a key to many of the services supporting iOS apps and could allow anyone access to a user's account information on those services.
In a study of gaming applications conducted a year ago, for example, Aldo Cortesi, founder of security consultancy Nullcube, found that GameLoft, OpenFeint, Zynga and other services all allowed users to log in with merely a UDID. In some cases, a hacker armed with a UDID could take control of a victim's Facebook or Twitter account, bypassing any need for a username and password.
"UDIDs are very widely used as a stand-in for user identity," Cortesi said in an email interview. "So, application developers often do things like tag behavioral data with UDIDs for analytics and monitoring."
It's unknown whether every entry in the file is accurate. However, Peter Kruse, a security professional with Danish security firm CSIS, confirmed that information on three of his devices were contained in the file. Information on an Apple device owned by this journalist was included in the file as well.
In a posting on Pastebin, the hackers behind the attack claimed that the information came from a compromise of an FBI laptop. The almost 12.4 million entries came from a file named "NCFTA_iOS_devices_intel.csv" that was taken from an FBI agent's laptop that had been compromised using a flaw in Java in March 2012, according to the post.
The National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA) is a collaboration between U.S. law enforcement groups and the private sector. The NCFTA failed to respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
The group behind the release of the information wanted to focus attention on law enforcement's use of such information.
"Well, we have learnt it seems quite clear nobody pays attention if you just come
and say 'hey, FBI is using your device details and info and who the f**k knows
what the hell are they experimenting with that,'" the group stated. "Well sorry, but nobody will care."
Many security professionals appeared skeptical of the claims that the file came from an FBI computer, instead focusing on services that use the UDID as a unique identifier to access data. Security experts have already warned that using Web service API keys to access software and services in the cloud have major security shortfalls.
Web developers un-advisedly use API keys as a security token, a fact highlighted by Nullcube's Cortesi in his research on social gaming networks and iPhone applications.
From a marketing and law enforcement perspective, such data would prove useful as a means to track individuals online, said Cortesi.
"I'm sure the FBI would find the information very valuable, if they could link the UDIDs to real user identities," said Cortesi.