Apple fixing FaceTime bug that allows eavesdropping

PHOENIX (AP/FOX 10) -- Apple has disabled a group-chat function in FaceTime after users said a software bug could let callers activate another person's microphone remotely.

With the bug, a FaceTime user calling another iPhone, iPad or Mac computer could hear audio - even if the receiver did not accept the call.

According to tech expert Lance Ulanoff, the silver lining, if there is one, is that the glitch only affects Group FaceTime calls, not one-on-one FaceTime calls.

"The person who initiates the call can start calling one person, and then when they add another person and when they hit a series of keys, they are able to see and hear what's going on on the recipient's side without them actually picking up the call. This only happens in group calling," said Ulanoff.

The bug, demonstrated through videos online , comes as an embarrassment for a company that is trying to distinguish itself by stressing its commitment to users' privacy.

"This is a big hit to their brand," said Dave Kennedy, CEO of Ohio-based security firm TrustedSec. "There's been a long period of time people could have used that to eavesdrop. These things definitely should be caught prior to ever being released."

There is no longer a danger from this particular bug as Apple disabled group chats, while regular, one-on-one FaceTime remains available.

It's hard to know if anyone exploited the bug maliciously, said Erka Koivunen, chief information security officer for Finnish company F-Secure. He said it would have been hard to use the bug to spy on someone, as the phone would ring first - and it's easy to identify who called.

Apple said Tuesday that a fix will come in a software update later this week. Apple declined to say when it learned about the problem. The company also wouldn't say if it has logs that could show if anyone took advantage of the bug before it became publicly known this week.

According to reports, a teen in Tucson and his mother claim they tried to alert Apple about the bug a week ago, but without success. The teen reportedly discovered the bug while playing video games with his friends.

"All bugs are obvious in retrospect," said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The truth is bugs are subtle, code is complicated and sometimes things get through."

Apple had introduced the 32-person video conferencing feature in October for iPhones, iPads and Macs. Regular FaceTime calls aren't affected unless the caller turns it into a group chat.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report