Apple invention lets iPhone owners AirDrop encrypted data to a friend's device for safekeeping

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2015
According to an Apple invention published Thursday, the company is looking into forms of data sharing that would allow an iPhone owner having connectivity issues to offload files normally stored in the cloud to a "friendly device" for later retrieval.


Source: USPTO


As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's patent application for "Secure ad hoc data backup to nearby friend devices" describes a method by which an iPhone or iPad user can easily create a peer-to-peer connection with a friend's device and transfer over file for safekeeping. The feature would be useful in instances when a user is collecting photos, notes or other data usually handled by iCloud, but can't upload due to network connectivity problems.

In practice, a first device seeks out friendly devices in the surrounding area using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC or other short-range communication protocols. The request for backup can be initiated by the user, perhaps through an AirDrop option, while cross-referencing known devices takes place in the background with user information pulled from an app like Contacts.

Along with a request to make an ad hoc connection, the signal also carries information that helps determine whether or not other devices are capable of accepting a backup file. For example, a target device would need the appropriate storage space, battery life and communications suite to handle the file transfer.

Like AirDrop, the receiving device would display a notification for an incoming file, offering the user options to accept or deny. In some embodiments a friendly device can be set up to automatically accept incoming backup files from known devices.




Before transmitting the backup, the first device encrypts packaged data with a unique key to thwart decryption by a friendly device or other nefarious users. Further protecting user data is an expiration date for retrieval. For example, a user may have one week to download the backup before it is erased. Alternatively, the data's owner can remotely trigger a data wipe much like a similar feature in Apple's Find My iPhone app.

Once the data is safely stored, a friendly device notifies the connected cloud service that it is carrying a backup file for another user. In some implementations the data is transferred over to the cloud, where it waits until its owner requests a download. Other examples automatically push out backup data when it is determined that a device is reconnected with the network.

It is unclear if Apple intends to include the system described above as a marketable feature in iOS, but data privacy practices are an obvious hurdle to implementing such tech.

Apple's patent application for encrypted backup storage with friends via AirDrop was first filed for in February 2014 and credits Anil K. Kandangath and Xiaoyuan Tu as its inventors.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    The spooks will love this. Gone are the days of those secret 'dead letter drops' Now you can pass those secrets to your contact without ever meeting.
    If the data encryption on the iPhone was not enough, along comes this.
  • Reply 2 of 12
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,308member
    The spooks will love this. Gone are the days of those secret 'dead letter drops' Now you can pass those secrets to your contact without ever meeting.
    If the data encryption on the iPhone was not enough, along comes this.

    So long as this stuff cannot be 'planted' without you knowing by accidentally leaving your phone able to receive. I'm sure Apple will think this one through though unlike Airdrop!

    On a related subject ... Meanwhile Apple should seriously think about altering Airdrop's functionality, so as to default back to 'friends only' automatically with in a short period after setting it to everyone manually. There is a headline news of a woman getting 'flashed' (as in sent indecent images) via Air drop in UK because she stupidly travelled on public transport with hers set to 'everyone 'and this now involves the police and more Apple click bate head lines associated with seemingly bad news for Apple.
  • Reply 3 of 12
    AirDrop has to be one of the great underachievers in Apple's portfolio of innovations. While it works wonderfully between Macs, it rarely works between my iOS devices or between my Macs and iOS devices (it sometimes does if I restart everything).

    Another brilliant creation that someone at Apple seems to have forgotten about. Let's hope it gets more serious attention going forward.
  • Reply 4 of 12
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    AirDrop has to be one of the great underachievers in Apple's portfolio of innovations. While it works wonderfully between Macs, it rarely works between my iOS devices or between my Macs and iOS devices (it sometimes does if I restart everything).

    Another brilliant creation that someone at Apple seems to have forgotten about. Let's hope it gets more serious attention going forward.

    I think I've managed to get it to work twice over the course of years.
  • Reply 5 of 12
    So long as this stuff cannot be 'planted' without you knowing by accidentally leaving your phone able to receive. I'm sure Apple will think this one through though unlike Airdrop!

    On a related subject ... Meanwhile Apple should seriously think about altering Airdrop's functionality, so as to default back to 'friends only' automatically with in a short period after setting it to everyone manually. There is a headline news of a woman getting 'flashed' (as in sent indecent images) via Air drop in UK because she stupidly travelled on public transport with hers set to 'everyone 'and this now involves the police and more Apple click bate head lines associated with seemingly bad news for Apple.

    How is such 'flashing' possible? Don't you have to 'accept' the incoming file (and the source is always revealed) before it downloads to your device? That's certainly what Airdrop does for me.
  • Reply 6 of 12
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,308member
    AirDrop has to be one of the great underachievers in Apple's portfolio of innovations. While it works wonderfully between Macs, it rarely works between my iOS devices or between my Macs and iOS devices (it sometimes does if I restart everything).

    Another brilliant creation that someone at Apple seems to have forgotten about. Let's hope it gets more serious attention going forward.

    Yes between Macs is it is amazing and very fast.

    One small thing I would like to see fixed and it still isn't yet on the latest 10.11 dev beta, is having the extra step of saying ... "I can't find what I am looking for' then 'Search for older Macs' so my older MBPs show up too ... why??? Just show me new and older Macs at the same time please!
  • Reply 7 of 12
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,308member
    How is such 'flashing' possible? Don't you have to 'accept' the incoming file (and the source is always revealed) before it downloads to your device? That's certainly what Airdrop does for me.

    Don't shoot the messenger .. the answer is probably clueless users of course. My suggested solution would seem the obvious answer. Never leave it on Everyone and iOS should flip back to Friends Only after a certain time by default. I guess you could add another option in settings ... "I want to be flashed' LOL

    http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-33889225
  • Reply 8 of 12

    Don't shoot the messenger .. the answer is probably clueless users of course. My suggested solution would seem the obvious answer. Never leave it on Everyone and iOS should flip back to Friends Only after a certain time by default. I guess you could add another option in settings ... "I want to be flashed' LOL

    http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-33889225

    I wasn't trying to be contentious at all. I was wondering how that was possible in Airdrop, that's all.

    (I did not read the linked article, since I do not like/trust/read BBC, especially when it comes to anything related to tech. Too agenda-driven, sort of like Fox News of the Left).
  • Reply 9 of 12
    rcfarcfa Posts: 969member
    The spooks will love this. Gone are the days of those secret 'dead letter drops' Now you can pass those secrets to your contact without ever meeting.
    If the data encryption on the iPhone was not enough, along comes this.

    Nope, because the data is encrypted with a random key only known to the originating device.
    People can already airdrop (un)encrypted files.
    This invention is basically a reincarnation of uucp or fidoNet, except it's for iCloud storage/backup not regular file/email transmission, and it's got more focus on privacy/security i.e. crypto.
  • Reply 10 of 12
    rcfarcfa Posts: 969member
    .

    It is unclear if Apple intends to include the system described above as a marketable feature in iOS, but data privacy practices are an obvious hurdle to implementing such tech.

    What AI doesn't seem to get: "friendly" in this context has nothing to with Jack's and Joe's device, it means "not hostile".
    Friendly devices more likely will my two iPads, my three iPhones, my two Macs.
    They will likely not include the phones and computers of my actual friends.
    Friendly devices could also be the ones that form a tight group e.g. since they belong to the same iTunes Family Sharing group, thus including wife's and kids' devices.

    Key thing here is to expand connectivity options, like when I'm overseas and one phone has a local SIM with unlimited data, and another has expensive data roaming: now I could to iCloud backups using a gateway device without setting up a (potentially expensive) WiFi hotspot on one phone to connect the other to the net for the purpose of backing up.
  • Reply 11 of 12
    badmonkbadmonk Posts: 975member
    James Comey is going to like this.

    As an aside AirDrop works fine for me for contact exchange (after everyone's iPhone is set on "everyone")

    and I confess I accidently "flashed" a photo across a restaurant in NYC last year. I thought her iPhone was my brother-in-law's.
  • Reply 12 of 12
    Not so good if you have friends who, unbeknownst to you, have a taste for child-porn and uses your devices to store their files. Plausible deniability may work, but mud sticks.
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