Apple’s iOS 8 will randomize a key piece of information of WiFi information that will protect users from being spied on by retailers or hackers.
The upcoming operating system upgrade, which is due out in autumn, will have iPhone users no longer share their real MAC addresses. This will make Apple products much harder to track or hack into.
A MAC address, or Media Access Control address, is a unique identifier that every device has. Computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles… all of them have MAC addresses. Basically, this address allows WiFi networks to see if a device has joined before, is being blocked, or simply does not have access to that particular WiFi service. However, due to how MAC addresses are broadcast, they can be sent to all WiFi networks in the area.
Some stores use this to their advantage. A store with a WiFi network has the capability of being able to track shoppers as they move through the store. As long as a shopper has a smartphone or tablet with the WiFi on, a store can use mathematics and the strength of the device’s broadcast signal to know where shoppers are.
The clothing retailer Nordstrom utilized this ability, until it was shut down in May of last year. “The test is over and we’ll now evaluate the results from it, along with results from other initiatives we have going on that are designed to better serve our customers,” the company last year.
However, iOS 8 will be broadcasting a fake MAC address. All WiFi networks in the area will be getting a false address, making the device unable to be tracked. When the Apple device joins a WiFi network, that network will receive the real address, while all other networks will still be getting the fake one.
The upcoming iOS 8 will hopefully make Apple device users more protected against snooping. Although it will certainly help with WiFi tracking and hacking, it is still recommended that users turn off a device’s WiFi capabilities when they re not in use.