One million and one Apple device IDs leaked

AntiSec – part of Anonymous – obtained the data by hacking an FBI agent's laptop.

The AntiSec group of hackers – one of many spun off from the sprawling leviathan that is the Anonymous movement – have released what they claim is a set of 1,000,001 unique device identifiers (UDIDs) for iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, which were stolen from the FBI.

The release also contains the device names and APNS tokens, which are key to getting push notifications onto devices, is in itself a pretty big security breach. It's bigger still given the fact that the default device name for Apple products is "[full name]'s iPhone". Even worse, AntiSec claim that the data is just a small part of a much large trove of personal information, which includes the UDIDs of 12,000,000 devices, and "full names, cell numbers, addresses, zipcodes, etc" for a smaller subset of them.

The group explain (at length) why they've leaked the data, and it boils down to trying to get people's attention that "FUCKING FBI IS USING YOUR DEVICE INFO FOR A TRACKING PEOPLE PROJECT OR SOME SHIT [sic]", though they are also aggreived at what they call the "hypocritical attempt made by the system" to encourage hackers to sign up:

You are forbidden to outsmart the system, to defy it, to work around it. In short, while you may hack for the status quo, you are forbidden to hack the status quo. Just do what you're told. Don't worry about dirty geopolitical games, that's business for the elite. They're the ones that give dancing orders to our favorite general, [NSA's general] Keith [Alexander], while he happily puts on a ballet tutu. Just dance along, hackers. Otherwise... well...

The method by which they claim to have got hold of the data is concerning as well – quite aside from whether or not the FBI ought to have the info, if they do, one would hope that they would store it more securely:

During the second week of March 2012, a Dell Vostro notebook, used by Supervisor Special Agent Christopher K. Stangl from FBI Regional Cyber Action Team and New York FBI Office Evidence Response Team was breached using the AtomicReferenceArray vulnerability on Java, during the shell session some files were downloaded from his Desktop folder one of them with the name of "NCFTA_iOS_devices_intel.csv" turned to be a list of 12,367,232 Apple iOS devices including Unique Device Identifiers (UDID), user names, name of device, type of device, Apple Push Notification Service tokens, zipcodes, cellphone numbers, addresses, etc. the personal details fields referring to people appears many times empty leaving the whole list incompleted on many parts. no other file on the same folder makes mention about this list or its purpose.

AntiSec also expressed their desire that the leak would expose the flaws with the UDID system itself. Even without any extra info leaked, that breach exposes victims to a fair degree of damage. As one programmer, Aldo Cortesi, writes:

If you use an Apple device regularly, it's certain that your UDID has found its way into scores of databases you're entirely unaware of. Developers often assume UDIDs are anonymous values, and routinely use them to aggregate detailed and sensitive user behavioural information.

Apple has been quietly killing the methods by which developers can access UDIDs for the last year or so, removing their ability to directly read them; but that won't prevent at least some users suffering from this leak. A number of older apps and unsecure networks still allow users to log in using just the UDID as identification. Although this hasn't been recommended practice for some time, not everyone runs their companies the way they ought to.

Unfortunately, we won't be able to hear anything else from AntiSec until Gawker journalist Adrian Chen dresses up in a tutu with a shoe on his head. Yes, those are their demands:

no more interviews to anyone till Adrian Chen get featured in the front page of Gawker, a whole day, with a huge picture of him dressing a ballet tutu and shoe on the head, no photoshop. yeah, man. like Keith Alexander. go, go, go. (and there you ll get your desired pageviews number too) Until that happens, this whole statement will be the only thing getting out directly from us. So no tutu, no sources.

The AntiSec logo, in ASCII-art form.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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"They’re turning the frogs gay": The psychology behind internet conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories are appearing on both the political left and right. 

They’re turning the frogs gay.

If you have ever watched a video by the internet’s premier conspiracy theorist, Infowars’ Alex Jones, you will know that this is an undeniable fact. Chemicals in the water are turning the (frigging) frogs gay.

The blatant absurdity of this conspiracy theory (which scientist is perving on homosexual amphibians, anyway? Stop them) makes it one of the most widely mocked and memed of Jones’ outbursts. Yet despite the ridiculousness of the red-faced ranter, he has a large and vocal fan base that even includes the 45th president of the United States himself.

We seem to be living in an era where conspiracy theories are booming. From Hillary Clinton’s paedophile pizza parlour, to Russian hackers, Red Pillers, Obama's communist coup and Trump’s 4D Chess – the internet has been flooded with conspiracies from both the Left and Right. Dr Robert Bartholomew, a sociologist who specialises in mass delusions, believes that social media has exacerbated conspiracy culture.

“We now live in a niche world, making it easier for people to construct their own reality - a world as they want it to be, not as it is,” he says. “A person who believes that Obama wasn’t born in the US can just visit sites that reinforce his or her beliefs." Batholomew explains that because of the internet, conspiracies can be passed on “at the speed of light”, while other experts have noted that emotions can also spread online, in a process known as “emotional contagion”. 

Yet though social media helps conspiracies to spread, the psychology behind them is age-old.

“Conspiracy theories are a product of our psychology and our psychology doesn’t really change over time,” says Dr Robert Brotherton, author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. “A certain proportion of people have always been receptive to conspiracy theories.” But who are these people – and what happens to make them fervently believe in gay frogs?

Brotherton emphasises that the psychological biases at work in conspiracy theorists’ minds are biases that we all possess to some extent. The “proportionality bias” means that if something big happens, we intuitively assume that something big must have caused it. Some of us can accept when this isn’t the case – when a lone gunman, for example, is responsible for assassinating the president from a grassy knoll – but others go looking for alternative explanations.

Humans also have a propensity to seek patterns, so we bend over backwards to connect unrelated facts (side note: why do the two psychologists thus far in this piece have remarkably similar names? Is there a psychologist Illuminati?).

“Confirmation bias” also means that we accept information that confirms our beliefs and ignore that which doesn’t. Once these biases lead someone towards a conspiracy theory, they might develop a “conspiracy worldview”, whereby everything becomes suspicious. Brotherton explains, for example, that after the Watergate scandal was exposed, conspiracy theorists weren't vindicated like you would expect - but instead believed that the official narrative was a cover-up and that Nixon was set up. 

A Pizzagate post on 4Chan, outlining alleged patterns and meanings

Yet though the psychology behind conspiracies is timeless, Brotherton does note that certain factors exacerbate our willingness to believe. And this credibility is not limited to right-wing Americans.

“One of the things I think that is most revealing is how quickly conspiracy fears have shifted to the Left, especially in the States, since the election,” he says. The night before the election, videos spread on right-wing social media profiles claiming to show that electronic voting machines were rigged to vote for Clinton. When Trump won, Democrats began to believe that Russians had hacked the voting machines in favour of Trump (though claims Russia manipulated the election are rooted in fact, there is no evidence they tampered with the actual count).

 

A Pizzagate meme

Brotherton explains that cognitive dissonance is to blame.  “In an election, if you voted for the losing candidate, that makes you feel kind of bad because it’s not what you wanted, and makes you look kind of silly, like why would you vote for the loser?"

The most obvious way to reason this out is to accept the candidate wasn't so good, and agree more with the other side.

"Obviously that’s not what happens at all," says Brotherton. Instead, he argues, we tend to go in the other direction. Instead of admitting that our candidate lost because they had flaws, we theorise about hacking and rigging in order to feel as though we were right all along.

A false claim about Donald Trump's administration

Yet conspiracy theories do continue to spread among the far right as well as the left, despite their electoral gains. Dr Mike Wood, a psychology lecturer and expert in the techniques used by conspiracy theorists online, explains that those with extreme political views might still be drawn towards conspiracy theories, even when they gain some power.

This is because their extreme position means they are still unlikely to get to accomplish what they want to do. "They have to rationalise that in some way," Wood says. "Often that leads to conspiracy theories.”

A Pizzagate meme

Alienation, a lack of control, and uncertainly are all facts that lead someone towards a conspiracy worldview, explains Wood. As he puts it: “basically conspiracy theories are a way to try and make sense of the world that in that moment doesn’t particularly make sense.” According to Wood, victims of social exclusion do tend to take conspiracy theories more seriously.

“If the world seems like a very random and kind of capricious place where things don’t particularly make sense and you can’t really control what's going on, that's when conspiracy theories are at their strongest," he says. Conspiracy theories "allege that things that are happening are basically controllable". 

It is hard to say whether any of this is at work in the mind of Conspirator-in-Chief Donald Trump. The President has previously spread information from Jones’ Infowars, most notably when he claimed three million votes in the election were cast illegally. “I won the popular vote,” he tweeted alongside this alleged fact, perhaps attempting to explain away his own cognitive dissonance. Yet whether or not Trump believes the conspiracies he spreads, the psychologists I speak agree on one thing. Having such a high-profile figure spreading conspiracies means they're not going away any time soon.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.