Open Haystack

As the wait for Apple AirTags continues, a new open-source tool has made it possible to create Bluetooth tracking devices that exist within the Find My network.

The new OpenHaystack tool, named after the ability to find the proverbial needle, enables folks with the inclination and patience to make their own DIY AirTags.

Researchers at the Secure Mobile Networking Lab created the tool with the help of the Raspberry Pi-like BBC micro-bit computer and a Mac, while leveraging a plugin for Apple Mail to authenticate the user.

The OpenHaystack tool then enables users to install firmware on Bluetooth dongles, turning them into Bluetooth beacons. Newly-created tags can be named and colour co-ordinated, and will appear in their last-known location on the Find My app for Mac.

The researchers said nearby iPhones will discover the tag and report the location back to Apple’s servers. The project does require a hack of sorts, and the instructions have been published over at Github.

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“OpenHaystack is an application that allows you to create your own tags that are tracked by Apple’s Find My network,” the company writes on the page (via MacRumors). “All you need is a Mac and a BBC micro:bit or any other Bluetooth-capable device. By using the app, you can track your micro:bit tag anywhere on earth without cellular coverage. Nearby iPhones will discover your tag and upload their location to Apple’s servers when they have a network connection.”

Apple continues to hold off on its rumoured AirTags trackers, which were initially thought to be arriving last year. In iOS 14.5, due in the next few weeks, Apple will open the Find My app up to third-party trackers like Tile. AirTags themselves may arrive as soon as this month too. So the usefulness of this tool is likely to be short-lived. Not that we’d recommend using it unless you’re an experienced tinkerer.

The researchers themselves add a disclaimer: “OpenHaystack is experimental software. The code is untested and incomplete. For example, OpenHaystack tags using our firmware broadcast a fixed public key and, therefore, are trackable by other devices in proximity (this might change in a future release). OpenHaystack is not affiliated with or endorsed by Apple Inc.”

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