Turns out the FBI isn't doing some big brother tracking using Apple UDIDs which hacker group Anti-Sec released last week. Florida publisher Blue Toad, which builds digital products for publishers, has told NBC News's Kerry Sanders and Bob Sullivan that the leaked data came from its servers. Following the hack, Blue Toad downloaded the info and compared it to its own database, finding 98 percent correlation. "That's 100 percent confidence level, it's our data," Blue Toad CEO Paul DeHart said. The company sells all sorts of digital things to its 5,000 clients, including custom apps, which help publishers "monetize their digital content." Since these apps go through Blue Toad's servers and since the company develops the apps themselves, they would have had access to the UDIDs, Apple spokeswoman Trudy Mullter explained to NBC. "As an app developer, BlueToad would have access to a user's device information such as UDID, device name and type," she said.
After both Apple and the FBI denied that the UDIDs came from the bureau, this kind of situation looked like the most likely source of the data. Until Apple announced phasing out the use of UDIDs altogether, many apps used them for push notifications, so it's not unreasonable that Anti-Sec could have gotten millions of these from hacking Blue Toad. It might surprise people that millions of people use the Blue Toad app services, but the company works with thousands of clients to build many apps. DeHart says his services drive 100 million page views each month. Of course, this doesn't exonerate the FBI completely — it's still possible that stolen data made its way onto an FBI laptop, De Hart admits — but it's looking less and likely.
Still, that's not very encouraging for people concerned about their online privacy. If one relatively unknown app publisher is sitting on a database with millions of people's data, you can be sure that lots and lots of other businesses and organizations are as well. If anything, the Blue Toad connection underlines how much of our information is already "out there," relatively easily accessible to hackers or the FBI.
The UDID itself isn't harmful, so DeHart said he would not inform customers individually if they had been hacked, leaving it up to them to figure out if they were part of the ordeal. The hackers also claimed they had more personal information, like zip codes, addresses, phone numbers, and emails linked to the specific IDs, which would make the situation a bit more dire. But, since Anti-Sec never released any of that and it's truth-telling record isn't very good, we can't be sure it had anything beyond the UDIDs in the first place.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.