Is FaceTime Still Safe? Here’s How to Stay Safe When Using FaceTime

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A recent FaceTime bug has prompted Apple to suspend its group video calling feature. The concerning discovery: a bug allows people to eavesdrop and spy on affected iPhone owners who have no idea about the glitch.

The major security flaw, discovered on Monday, January 28, brought into question the safety of FaceTime and its safeguards against hacking. Learn more from this article the details, FaceTime privacy settings that you should know, and how to stay safe when using the service.

Is FaceTime Hacked? Here Are the Details

The FaceTime bug allowed people to listen and watch you via the feature without you knowing it, thus forcing Apple to take Group FaceTime offline while addressing the security gap. While you can still make one-on-one calls, you cannot currently add others to the conversation.

The security horror worked this way:

  1. A caller requested a video call to another iPhone or Mac user.
  2. While the phone rang, they swiped up from the bottom of the screen, adding another person to the call.
  3. They added themselves as a third participant and were able to head audio from the other end of the line, even without the other person accepting or rejecting the call.
  4. If the other person rejected the call through pressing the power button, the call was also able to see through the front camera of the recipient.

This meant that even while the call was ringing, the microphone would be turned on so the caller could hear them, even though the phone was locked. If the recipient rejected the call, the camera would practically switch on! Through it all, the recipient remained unaware as it still appeared like the call was incoming and yet to be answered.

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The issue was initially raised by an Arizona woman whose son found out about it while he organized a gaming session among friends. The woman, whom the Wall Street Journal identified as 43-year-old Michele Thompson, showed tweets and screenshots that suggested her attempt to connect with Apple’s tech support starting January 20.

In turn, Apple received criticism for failing to have the due diligence to react to the woman’s warnings.

Apple added the group video calling feature in October 2018 as a component of the iOS 12.1 software. According to the company, they are aware of the issue and “have identified a fix that will be released in a software update” later in the week that that spy glitch issue erupted.

“There has been a feeling that that’s slipped a bit,” Professor Alan Woodward of the Surrey Center for Cyber Security said in a Telegraph report, referring to the quality control that went to the product. “This sort of thing is so obvious, it’s not buried in the code. It really is the sort of thing that should be found in testing before being put into production.”

Important Questions on FaceTime Privacy Settings

Now, the burning question among FaceTime users is this: is my iPhone affected by this security bug? Know that only iPhone and iPad models running iOS 12.1 or later were affected by the spy glitch. Also affected were Mac computers than ran macOS Mojave 13.x or later.

Except for the recently discovered issue with Group FaceTime, FaceTime itself is still generally deemed private and secure to use.

In February 2014, Apple published a white paper discussing the security used in different iOS services. According to the section on FaceTime, the feature uses the Apple Push Notification service for calls, similar to iMessage, in order to make an initial connection to the user’s registered devices.

End-to-end encryption, Apple adds, governs the audio and video contents of FaceTime calls, such that only the send and receiver can access them and not even Apple can decrypt the data. The document further goes:

“FaceTime uses Internet Connectivity Establishment (ICE) to establish a peer-to-peer connection between devices. Using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) messages, the devices verify their identity certificates and establish a shared secret for each session.”

End-to-end encryption protects the data traveling between two phones, so it’s next to impossible for an outside party to hack into the call (unless they exploit the recent bug). Even so, the intruder can only listen in before the call gets answered, and not if a call is already taking place.

How to Stay Safe When Using FaceTime

Here are some tips to guard your online privacy and security when using FaceTime:

  • Use a Secure Network – Free Wi-Fi that might be in your hotel, a restaurant, or an airport is tempting to use, but it’s better to err on the side of caution than get exposed to an unsafe network.
  • Connect Only With Well-Meaning Individuals – Dubious characters will always find something to do in order to violate your privacy to get hold of your data. This means a huge part of your FaceTime security depends on who you are communicating with. Avoid calling people with ill intentions or whom you barely know, as they could record the call, take screen grabs, and use those things in a malicious manner.
  • Turn Off FaceTime As You Wish – If you don’t feel like using FaceTime due to privacy concerns, you can turn it off on your Apple device through simple steps. On your iPhone, open Settings, scroll down to FaceTime, and then tap on it. Afterwards, switch it off by tapping on the toggle located beside FaceTime. Once the feature is turned off, the toggle will appear as white.

You may also disable FaceTime on your Mac. Open the app on your Mac by going to Applications in the Finder window. Click on the FaceTime menu found in the top menu bar, and then choose the third option, Turn FaceTime Off. You may altogether sign out of FaceTime on your Mac by opening the app on your computer, clicking on the FaceTime menu in the top menu bar, and selecting the second option for Preferences. Click Sign Out and you’re done!

  • Physically Guard Your Phone – Don’t leave your device lying just anywhere, especially when in public places.
  • Keep Your Apple Devices Clean – Always install the latest security updates from Apple and don’t forget to use a reliable tool to keep your iPhone, iPad, or Mac free of junk and elements that get into the way of their steady operations. These tools include a trusted Mac optimizer tool that can weed out junk and other space-hogging files.

Final Thoughts

The Group FaceTime spy glitch is yet another challenge to Apple’s reputation and level of quality control in its products, particularly in the face of major privacy and security breaches besetting the digital world. Users are closely watching how the company will solve this security bug and prove its respect for the privacy of its users.

Really, is FaceTime still safe to use? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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