iCloud Was Storing Deleted Safari Browser History for Months, but Apple Fixed the Issue

Discussion in 'MacRumors.com News Discussion' started by MacRumors, Feb 9, 2017.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    When clearing Safari browser history, iPhone and iPad users expect all records to be permanently deleted from their devices, but it appears Apple's cross-device browser syncing feature caused iCloud to secretly store browsing history for a much longer period of time ranging from several months to over a year.

    iCloud was caught storing deleted browser history by software company Elcomsoft, which develops cracking tools for extracting protected data from iOS devices. Speaking to Forbes, Elcomsoft CEO Vladimir Katalov explained that the company had been able to retrieve "deleted" browser history dating back more than a year.

    Deleted browser history pulled from iCloud by Elcomsoft​

    Apple was keeping deleted browser information in a separate iCloud record called "tombstone," and in a press release announcing updated Phone Breaker software for extracting the stored browsing info, Elcomsoft explains that the data was likely kept as part of an iCloud feature that syncs browsing history across multiple devices and ensures it's deleted from all devices when history is cleared.
    Forbes tried using the Phone Breaker software created by Elcomsoft and was able to retrieve nearly 7,000 records dating back to November of 2015. Site names, URLs, Google searches, visit counts, and the date and time items were deleted were included. It's not clear why Apple was storing the information for so long, but it appears to have been an oversight related to ensuring information is deleted on all devices once cleared rather than intentional.

    Shortly after Forbes and Elcomsoft published their iCloud findings, Elcomsoft noticed previously available records being deleted as part of a server-side fix quietly implemented by Apple. All deleted browser records older than two weeks have been eliminated. From Elcomsoft's blog:
    Even before Apple made the server-side fix to make sure deleted browsing history is permanently removed in a timely manner, it was difficult to get ahold of the information. Forensic software like Phone Breaker was required, which doesn't come cheap, and Phone Breaker only works with a user's Apple ID and password, or an authentication token pulled from a user's computer.

    In iOS 9.3 and later (and Safari 9.1 and later), Apple also began turning URLs into unreadable hashes instead of plaintext when browser history is deleted, an additional security measure, but Forbes says that didn't stop Elcomsoft's tool from working with the newest versions of Safari.

    While Apple now appears to be deleting browsing data at the two week mark (or has made it invisible to tools like Phone Breaker), iCloud users should be aware that their browsing history, including cleared browser history, is stored in iCloud for at least that two week period. Users who are not comfortable with that can easily disable syncing features through the iCloud section of the Settings app. Apple has not commented on Elcomsoft's finding or the apparent server-side fix.

    Article Link: iCloud Was Storing Deleted Safari Browser History for Months, but Apple Fixed the Issue
  2. Michaelgtrusa macrumors 604


    Oct 13, 2008
    Everywhere And Nowhere
    I just read this on 9to5 Mac and not shocked at all.
  3. farewelwilliams macrumors 65816

    Jun 18, 2014
    wonder if that was causing super slow downs on my older devices when using Safari.
  4. AngerDanger, Feb 9, 2017
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2017

    AngerDanger macrumors 68030


    Dec 9, 2008
    It's a shame they didn't give it some terribly creepy name… wait.

    What's written on your tombstone tends to be whatever is most memorable about you, so the fact that Apple considers your internet history worthy of an epitaph is worrisome.

  5. slimothy Suspended


    May 31, 2011
  6. Nunyabinez macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2010
    Provo, UT
    Well, it would be weird to be shocked by something that you had already read on another website. ;)
  7. tkatz macrumors regular

    Dec 14, 2009
    Tombstones are a method of storing deleted records in databases, whether its a record keeping track of deleted items or a marker to tell the database to go back later and reclaim the space. There's nothing necessarily creepy (or ominous as per your original text) about the naming in this context.

    I'm not saying this is the case, but its entirely possible that Apple might store the records in such a way and then go back later and clean them up in bulk. It's then possible that the cleanup procedure wasn't working properly. Again, not saying this was what was happening but with the naming of the record and how they seem to have "resolved" the issue recently its one possibility.
  8. ejpeg macrumors newbie


    Jul 22, 2011
  9. BeefCake 15 macrumors 65816

    BeefCake 15

    May 15, 2015
    near Boston, MA
    I wish they allowed the option to pick and choose what of Safari you want to sync. I don't care about syncing history but want to sync read later and bookmarks across devices.
  10. yaxomoxay macrumors 68000


    Mar 3, 2010
  11. smacrumon macrumors 68030


    Jan 15, 2016
    Shocked and disappointed. And apparently DropBox is the devil. ? :rolleyes:
  12. Mascots macrumors 65816


    Sep 5, 2009
    Was like wow good find until this:

    Sure, let's fearmonger more people for that exposure.
  13. hawkeye_a macrumors 6502a


    Jun 27, 2016
    Is there anyway to turn off the syncing of browsing history? (All i need synced are my bookmarks)
  14. Naraxus macrumors 6502


    Oct 13, 2016
    So the line that Cook would always espouse about Apple caring about user privacy is exposed for bull that it always was.
  15. kazmac macrumors 601


    Mar 24, 2010
    Stuck in an early 70s giallo
    Sadly... not surprised, given Apple's track record.
  16. ILuvEggplant Suspended


    Jul 28, 2016
    Los Angeles, CA
    so someone is going to see all my youp()rn links?

    BTW if google did this some of you guys would have an uproar but if it's apple - well whatevers right?! :p
  17. FasterQuieter macrumors 6502


    Feb 21, 2008
    On reading the headline I instinctively suspected incompetence rather than malice. Like the fact my iPhone still won't delete the thumbnails when I delete the associated images. After nearly 10 years!
  18. KALLT macrumors 601

    Sep 23, 2008
    What the hell, Apple… :mad:

  19. manhattanboy macrumors 6502a


    Jan 25, 2007
    In ur GF's bed, Oh no he didn't!
    Have spying governments basically ruined the cloud?
  20. 69Mustang, Feb 9, 2017
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2017

    69Mustang macrumors 601


    Jan 7, 2014
    In between a rock and a hard place
    Fear mongering how? It's true. We don't know. Apple hasn't released a statement saying anything. iCloud syncing could be dependent on having that deleted info available for a length of time. In that instance, moving the data to a different server and making it inaccessible would make sense. No one is claiming Apple did anything nefarious. Until Apple releases a statement... even then, they could just lie about it and sell the information to the highest bidder bwahahahahahahahhaha :eek::confused:o_O;):p:D Just kidding. Or am I? Yes, I am. But are you sure?
  21. smacrumon macrumors 68030


    Jan 15, 2016
    Safari completely deleted my reading list the other night. Was pretty upset about that.
  22. manhattanboy macrumors 6502a


    Jan 25, 2007
    In ur GF's bed, Oh no he didn't!
    It actually would be useful to some advertising companies and website owners as they can see where you go from page to page and how long it is taking you to browse there. To me the most upsetting fact, however, is that it took until mid iOS 9 for Apple to encrypt the syncing. Post Snowden, basically anything transversing or being stored in the web should be encrypted.
  23. iShatMyself macrumors newbie

    Mar 27, 2011
  24. ra535i macrumors newbie

    Feb 10, 2013
    But don't you use Safari?
  25. TroyBoy30 macrumors 68000


    Jun 9, 2009
    Atlanta GA
  26. ra535i macrumors newbie

    Feb 10, 2013
    not an osx or ios user?

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