They are one of the most exciting products the U.S. company has launched in recent years – and also one of the most controversial. That’s because the integrated tracking function is increasingly being abused by cybercriminals. Security experts are sounding the alarm.
They are barely larger than a 2-euro coin, glow in bright colors and are difficult to recognize as a technical device at first glance: AirTags from Apple seem harmless.
In fact, however, the “Smarties” – as they are nicknamed – are powerful mini-trackers that can be used to locate various objects. What sounds like a practical function for everyday life turns out to be support for cybercriminals in practice. They use AirTags to track expensive luxury cars or stalk strangers.
What Apple AirTags can do
When Apple AirTags were introduced in the spring of 2021, there was a lot of excitement. The nifty little plastic and metal button came with cutting-edge Bluetooth and ultra-wideband technology, and was exceptionally affordable by Apple standards. So it’s no wonder that millions of Apple fans put the compact mini-trackers in their backpacks or cars, tied them to their keychains or attached them to their smartphones. The only bummer is that Apple changed the functionality over time.
Warning against misuse
Although the track function remained, new apps made it easier to locate the AirTags and could even deactivate the mini-tackers. A circumstance that now has data protectionists and security experts on their toes. “Cybercriminals can use AirTags for their criminal activities,” says Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Journalists, activists and people who have experienced domestic violence are particularly at risk, she said.
These are the specific dangers
Apple allows users to track AirTags live – in real time and to the meter. This is precisely the feature that cybercriminals are taking advantage of. They attach the mini-trackers to particularly valuable vehicles in order to be able to steal them after they have finished driving. AirTags are also a useful tool for stalkers. They use the trackers to follow their target and – in the worst case – ambush him or her at a specific location.
Protective measures introduced
In the meantime, Apple has reacted to the ongoing criticism. To protect against unwanted tracking, iPhone users are shown a notice on the lock screen.
The message “AirTag Found Moving With You” signals that a mini-tracker is nearby, moving along with the iPhone user. In addition, Apple has released an Android app called “Airguard” that enables the detection of unwanted AirTags.