Blog: How Tos

AirDrop and Cyber Flashing, what’s the deal?

consultant-placeholder10 Ken Munro 13 Aug 2015


Following my interview with the BBC this morning here’s a much more comprehensive write-up of AirDrop functionality and how you can avoid cyber flashing.

Back in 2013 Apple released iOS 7 and with it AirDrop, a transfer process for documents between supported Macs and iDevices.

It works by using Bluetooth to create a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi network between devices.

When one device has connected to another the receiver has to actively accept the file transfer, it doesn’t happen automatically.

So far so good, right?


This “sharing” is great if you know and trust what is being AirDropped, but what if you are sent something unexpected, abusive even, a photo of a strangers genitals? That’s cyber flashing. If you are an AirDrop user who has changed the default setting from Contacts Only to Everyone then you run the risk of being sent all sorts of undesirable content.

With AirDrop you don’t have the option to not see an image sent to you, it shows as a preview which you then accept or decline.


If someone sends you an abhorrent image you can’t unsee it. Much as it may upset you our advice is to save it, and then contact the police.


AirDrop settings panel:


The three settings are available by swiping up on the home screen, a setting is selected by tapping it.

Another interesting thing is that you don’t need to enable AirDrop yourself. By default Apple enable the Control Center [sic] on the lock screen. From there anyone can swipe up and enable airdrop for Everyone even if the phone is locked.

To stop iOS 7 Control Center from appearing on the Lock screen go to Settings > Control Center, then toggle the Access on Lock Screen setting to the Off position.

It’s not just AirDrop

There are other methods of achieving the same including Bluetooth push messaging, and MMS picture messages. Both are fairly easy to block though. Depending on the configuration of the device an image may not be presented for acceptance, unlike airdrop.

We’ve also been looking at android this morning and can’t immediately see an equivalent to airdrop that doesn’t require installing third party apps. We’ll keep you posted if/when we do.

What should be done?

Our recommendation to Apple is that a timeout function should be implemented.

For example, if AirDrop is in Everyone mode and has not been used for say 10 minutes then it should flip back to the default Contacts Only setting automatically.

Our advice

  • If you’re not using AirDrop then turn it off, simple.
  • When you don’t need functions like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi turn those off too.
  • If you’re setting up your child’s iDevice make sure that once it’s done turn AirDrop contact settings to Off.
  • We also recommend following our basic safety tips for mobile devices.