Smartphone Based Detection of Hidden/Non-paired Apple AirTag

State: Assigned to Aljoscha Schneider

During the last few years, we have seen a tremendous increase in Internet of Things (IoT) devices [1] as well as devices that turn ordinary objects into smart objects. An example of this is the newly released Apple AirTags [2] which use a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ultra-wide Band (UWB) [3] to localize and track any attached objects. In addition to raising new research opportunities in indoor localization and home automation, it also raises a multitude of security questions in terms of privacy and the possible abuse of AirTags as spyware/stalkerware [4]. Therefore, it is of high interest to detect such devices through their wireless data exchange readily.

Thesis Question: How to detect a hidden/not-paired Apple AirTag utilizing a smartphone?

This would initially involve a short research period to identify technologies and libraries [5] that could be integrated to detect BLE traffic on iOS and Android devices. Followed by the development of a prototype application, either on an iOS or Android device, that uses the smartphone's integrated BLE sensing capabilities to detect active devices within its vicinity, similar to the BLE Scanner 4.0 App by Bluexpixel Technologies LLP. The third step would then pertain to identifying Apple AirTags among the detected BLE devices.

Optional: The implementation of a check to detect whether the used phone has UWB capabilities.

[1] State of IoT 2021: Number of connected IoT devices growing 9% to 12.3 billion globally, cellular IoT now surpassing 2 billion, Satyajit Sinha, IoT Analytics, 2021

[2] Apple introduces AirTag, Apple Press Release, 2021

[3] UWB: The Tech Behind Apple AirTags, The Tech Blog, Amaldev, 2021

[4] Apple’s AirTag trackers made it frighteningly easy to ‘stalk’ me in a test, Washington Post, Geoffrey A. Fowler, 2021

[5] Apple Swift CoreBluetooth Framework

10% Lit Review, 30% Design, 40% Implementation, 20% Documentation
Knowledge or interest in Swift/Java/Kotlin, as well as app development for iOS or Android

Supervisors: Katharina O. E. Müller

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