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Apple AirTags tracker hacked by researcher by altering its microcontroller

A German researcher recently demonstrated a video wherein he was able to hack into Apple AirTags by breaking into its microcontroller. The hacker was able to modify the NFC URL that the AirTags redirect to with this hack.

twitter-logoSarthak Dogra | May 10, 2021 | Updated 15:32 IST
(Image: Twitter/ stacksmashing)

Highlights

  • AirTags have been hacked into in the first of its kind demonstration.
  • The cybersecurity researcher who hacked into the Apple device customised its NFC URL for demonstration.
  • The modified AirTag redirected to a different URL than the standard found.apple.com.

In the first of its kind event, Apple AirTags has reportedly been hacked by a German cybersecurity researcher. The researcher used reverse-engineering on the latest Apple device's microcontroller to do this.

Stack Smashing, a German security researcher and creator on YouTube, recently tweeted about the achievement. The tweet also included a video demo of the hacked AirTags, showing some modifications in its elements.

As mentioned in the Twitter thread, the cybersecurity researcher hacked into the AirTag by breaking into its microcontroller. For those unaware, a microcontroller is a small computer in itself, in the form of an integrated circuit with one (or more) CPUs, memory and programmable input/output peripherals.

The hardware hacker was then able to re-flash the microcontroller, much like jailbreaking, known to take place in other Apple products. With this, he modified elements of AirTag's software, including the website that the AirTag redirects to upon connection.

While regular AirTags connect to found.apple.com for tracking lost items, the modified AirTag redirected the user to the demonstrator's own website, stacksmashing.net. The redirection took place when an AirTag enabled in Lost Mode is tapped on by an NFC-enabled device, like an iPhone.

The researcher also shared that he damaged two AirTags in an attempt to hack into its microcontroller. Having finally achieved the goal, the attempt was lauded by the Twitterati.

The event has come to light as the first of its kind to date, with Apple only having launched the AirTags late last month alongside its new iPad Pro lineup. As or when more such attempts are made, it will be interesting to see how the physical components of AirTags can be modified further.

For now, the demonstration is sure to be a red flag for Apple. The company launched AirTags as a recovery device for important items that the users deem fit to use them on. These might include keys, wallets, luggage or any other precious cargo. Knowing that the AirTags can be hacked for modifications might not go down well with their claims for the use case.

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