Editor’s note: Updated at 11 a.m. PT with a statement from Flipper Devices.
The iPhone makes it easy to connect to Bluetooth devices, such as AirTags or AirPods. However, a hacker has discovered a way to take control of your iPhone and flood it with device connection requests, making it difficult to use the iPhone.
A security researcher called Techryptic (identified as “Anthony” by TechCrunch) wrote to blog post and he did a video demonstration about how to FlipperZero can be used to flood an iPhone with connection notifications that you usually see with Bluetooth devices. As Techryptic says, an attacker can “effectively launch a DDOS [distributed denial-of-service] notification attack on any iOS device.” The barrage of notifications would make it virtually impossible for anyone to use the iPhone.
According to FlipperZero website, a Flipper Zero is a $169 device used to “explore any type of access control system, RFID, radio protocols, and debug hardware using GPIO pins.” Techryptic used Flipper Zero to broadcast Bluetooth advertisements used by Apple devices to allow users to establish connections.
Flipper Devices, the company behind Flipper Zero, sent a statement to Macworld, saying that this feature cannot run on the default Flipper Zero hardware. “We have taken the necessary precautions to ensure that the device cannot be used for nefarious purposes,” a Flipper Devices representative said. “Because the firmware is open source, people can modify it and use the device in ways that are not intended, but we do not promote this and condone the practice if the goal is to act maliciously.”
Techryptic says this attack can be used simply as a prank or for security research. Techryptic also noted that a future blog post will explain how it can be used maliciously. Techryptic’s blog post states that the Flipper Zero has limited range, so an attacker must be in close proximity to the target. But TechCrunch was told that a Flipper Zero could be equipped with an “amplified card” to extend the range to “thousands of feet.”
How to protect yourself from fake Bluetooth notifications
Techryptic did not note whether Apple was made aware of the security flaw. Considering the tone of the Techryptic post – it was titled “Annoying Apple Fans” – Apple likely didn’t receive notice prior to the post. Typically, security researchers don’t reveal their findings until Apple has released a fix.
TechCrunch reports that Apple can mitigate attacks by “ensuring that Bluetooth devices connecting to an iPhone are legitimate and valid, and also reducing the distance at which iDevices can connect to other devices via Bluetooth.” With this in mind, the way Apple would implement a fix is via an iOS update, so it’s important to keep your iPhone up to date.
But until Apple fixes the problem, it’s important to keep in mind that this attack is rare because the only practical way a user can protect themselves is by turning off Bluetooth, which isn’t ideal. If you receive an unknown notification to connect to a device, be cautious and take precautions: decline the request if you can. Since this attack may flood your iPhone with notifications, you may need to try leaving the area and turning off your phone to stop the attack.