Apple’s slip-up with Safari data suggests that your browsing history is rarely ever “deleted”
A Russian cybersecurity company has claimed that it can retrieve “deleted” Safari browsing data from iCloud. Elcomsoft, based in Moscow, which makes forensics software, said that it’s possible to find a list of your supposedly deleted Safari browsing habits stored in iCloud for over a year.
According to the firm’s CEO Vladimir Katalov, Apple maintains this data in a file called “tombstone” for the purposes of syncing different devices. Katalov claimed that he made this discovery by accident and used his company’s Phone Breaker software to extract the “deleted” data going back over a year.
“We have found that they stay in the cloud probably forever,” he told Forbes, which also had an independent iOS forensic expert verify the claims. It’s worth pointing out that Apple does not use the term “delete” when it comes to Safari browsing data on your Mac or iPhone. Rather this data is “cleared.”
But nonetheless, privacy and security experts are not pleased with the revelations. Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told Forbes that even if this was just a mistake on Apple’s part, it is worrying as data retention is often done by default.
Browsing history is very sensitive and can reveal a lot of about a person, he said, and users may feel less comfortable knowing that the data isn’t truly deleted. “It’s vital that people are able to trust that they can be in control of that kind of information. It’s one reason we advise using search tools that don’t store your history.”
“Any data that’s supposed to be deleted but can still be extracted is always interesting, especially for law enforcement,” added Per Thorsheim, organizer of security conference PasswordsCon, in Elcomsoft’s press release.
Apple has yet to respond to the allegations but Katalov added that once the news first broke this morning, his browsing data started disappearing from his iCloud so it appears some kind of fix has been put in place.