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Sunday, December 4, 2022

People are now selling ‘silenced’ AirTags, enabling stalkers

AirTags appeared harmless enough when they first came out, promising to keep track of users’ belongings via a Bluetooth crowdsourcing system. 

And since the beginning, Apple swore up and down that AirTags couldn’t be used with malicious intent, because they had built-in speakers that would ring to make themselves known, plus an automatic detection feature integrated into iPhones to let you know if you’re ever being tracked by an AirTag.
But, like virtually anything, even the handiest of well intentioned tools can become destructive in the wrong hands. And, of course, people have already figured out how to tear out and disable an AirTag’s tiny speaker, to keep it from warning anyone it could potentially be used to stalk.
As AppleInsider reports, such examples of modified, “stalker-friendly” AirPods have been cropping up all over used marketplace, such as eBay and Etsy. Of course, they’re never outright marketed as stalking tools. One particular seller named JTEE3D was found selling the normally $30 device for $77.50 on Etsy, calling it a “Silent AirTag.”
In the description, the merchant explained that “the device looks nearly the same as a regular $29 AirTag. However, a small hole has been cut underneath the device’s battery to disconnect the speaker.”
When approached by PCMag, the seller ended up taking down his listing and responding with a detailed statement of his view on the matter:
The intent of this modification was to cater to the several requests of buyers interested in my other AirTag product who were interested in fitting an AirTag to their bikes, pets and power tools. These requests led me to listing it as a product on Etsy, albeit without a great deal of traction. The vast majority of sales shown on my Etsy profile are from sales on my modified slim AirTag, designed to unobtrusively fit inside a purse or wallet.

Much like many products in the world, there will always be a minority of people who will use them for malicious activities. Content with my ability to help people with genuine, positive uses, I listed the product without having considered the negative consequences.

The AirTag is very easy to make ‘silent,’ either by electrical modification or simply muffling the noise with a clamping force. I can’t stop people from modifying AirTags themselves (there are various posts online instructing how to do so), but I can at least cease providing a tool that has the potential for malicious use.

While I believe there to be many positive uses for this product, there are some negatives, that I’m now aware of, that can’t be outweighed by any positive. In light of this, I have removed my listing from Etsy. I’m not affiliated with any other listings of silent AirTags.

Although JTEE3D seemed to mean well and has since stopped selling his product, there are many others that are still up on the market. There are also plenty of DIY tutorials online that explain how you can disable an AirTag speaker on your own. 

Even EFF Cybersecurity Director Eva Galperin has expressed her concern over this, when she posted a Tweet about the isssue yesterday.

While Apple does still have the AirTag detection notification feature to warn any Apple device user, it seems all too easy for hackers to bypass Apple’s safeguards for the purpose of following someone around. 

And although Apple also extended the “AirTag found moving with you” warning into an app offered on Android phones, to make sure Android users aren’t being targeted, either, it may only be a matter of time before hackers figure out how to get past the last of Apple’s defenses and use the AirTag in ways it was never intended to be used.

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