Apple's geolocation feature exposes Starlink routers: A major leak unveils user locations and raises privacy concerns
28 mai 2024

Apple’s geolocation feature exposes Starlink routers: A major leak unveils user locations and raises privacy concerns

Par Eliott Loudon

Apple’s geolocation feature inadvertently reveals Starlink router locations

From the comfort of your home, imagine being able to map out the locations of Starlink antennas across the globe. Sounds fascinating, right? But what if this capability fell into the wrong hands? This is the potential threat that has emerged due to a function in Apple’s geolocation systems. This function was exploited by researchers, enabling them to map out the locations of these antennas, thereby potentially revealing the homes of Starlink users.

The geolocation technologies are increasingly being deployed for various applications. Google has recently launched « Find My Device », a location network similar to Apple’s AirTags, allowing users to locate their Android devices. These systems are designed to offer convenient and secure services. However, the flip side of this technology has been exposed by the recent incident involving Apple’s tracking system and Starlink.

Implications of the Starlink location leak

While the ability to accurately map out device locations can be useful in certain scenarios, this function in the AirTag tracking system has exposed the locations of Starlink antennas, potentially revealing the homes of users. This issue is particularly concerning in conflict zones where these antennas are used for communication. The discovery of this flaw has significant implications, especially in conflict zones like Ukraine where Starlink antennas are crucial for wartime communication.

SpaceX, the company behind Starlink, has already started randomizing the MAC addresses of its main routers and Wi-Fi repeaters to address this issue. However, this update has not yet covered all devices. To counter Russian jamming attempts, Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, stated that the company is deploying significant resources. Despite these efforts, Starlink remains the only functioning communication system in Ukraine.

Enhancing privacy protection in the wake of the location leak

In response to the leak, Apple quietly released an update that allows users to add the suffix « _nomap » to their SSID (the name of their Wi-Fi network) to opt out of this tracking. However, security experts like Professor David Levin of the University of Maryland are calling for additional restrictions. They want Apple to limit the amount of data that can be collected through its tracking system to strengthen privacy protection.

While it’s clear that geolocation technologies provide significant benefits, this incident serves as a stark reminder of the potential privacy concerns they can raise. It underscores the need for tech companies to put robust safeguards in place to protect user privacy and prevent their technologies from being exploited for nefarious purposes.

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