As you may have heard, Anonymous and AntiSec hacked into a database of 12 million Apple Universal Device IDs that were in an FBI officer’s laptop and released 1 million of them, ostensibly so some people could identify if their device was one of those FBI was tracking.
They claimed to have tapped into a Dell laptop owned by Special Agent Christopher K. Stangl, an FBI cyber security expert. They downloaded several files, including one that contained “12,367,232 Apple iOS devices including Unique Device Identifiers (UDID)” and other personal information, they wrote in a text file published online. “[The] personal details fields referring to people appears many times empty leaving the whole list incompleted [sic] on many parts. no other file on the same folder makes mention about this list or its purpose.”
While it’s not immediately clear what the FBI is doing with the Apple UDIDs and detailed information on device owners, Gizmodo pointed out that the acronym “NCFTA” could stand for the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance, a nonprofit that acts as an information-sharing gateway between private industry and law enforcement.
These are unique identifiers for things like iPhones and iPads that have long presented the risk of tying someone’s identity to an individual device.
There are multiple ways FBI could have collected this information–either using an NSL or Section 215 request or an insecure transmissions to an ad or game server. And no one knows how the FBI was using it. Whatever you think about Anonymous, we may finally learn more about how the government is tracking geolocation.
But here’s one other concern. Assuming that’s an official FBI database, not only the FBI has it, but also the National Counterterrorism Center. And they’ve got access to whatever federal databases they want to cross-check with existing counterterrorism databases. And one of the few checks we have on the use of our data in this way is a Privacy Act SCOTUS just watered down.
This is a massive amount of data the government likely has no good excuse for having collected, much less used. But it’s likely just one tip of a very big iceberg.