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Fridge magnet poses security threat to iPad 2

A simple fridge magnet could allow an evildoer to partially unlock your iPad 2.Rosa Golijan/msnbc.com

You're security conscious and always make sure that your iPad 2 is locked when you leave it alone for a moment — but what if that weren't enough to keep an evildoer from accessing your data or apps? What if someone could unlock your iPad 2 by using a simple refrigerator magnet?

Don't laugh — because they can.

As the folks at 9to5 Mac and the German Apple forum Apfeltalk discovered, it turns out that anyone with an Apple Smart Cover or other magnetic accessory — including something like a simple fridge magnet — can gain partial access to a passcode-protected iPad 2.

All this sneaky individual has to do is press down the device's power button (that's the one on the top edge) until "slide to power off" appears on the screen. After that he or she simply slides a magnet along the right edge of the device's screen until it dims briefly and then taps the on-screen "cancel" button.

Ta da!

The perp now has access to whichever app was open when your iPad 2 was locked. If that app was Mail, then he or she can browse through all your messages, and even send some on your behalf. If the open app was Photos, then he or she can now see all your silly snapshots. If the app was Contacts ... well, you get the idea. The magnet trick provides full access to whichever app was open.

If no app was open when the iPad 2 was locked, then the evildoer is able to shuffle around your app icon arrangement ... and search your entire device by swiping over to the Spotlight feature. As you can see in the image below, this means that he or she can see previews of messages or emails simply by guessing at a few random search queries. (This is of course assuming that you haven't changed Spotlight's default settings and forbidden it from searching through certain things.)

Now before you panic too much, it's worth noting that the magnet trick doesn't allow someone complete access to your iPad 2. Attempts to open up any app other than the one which was running when the iPad was locked — or to open any app while on the home screen — will fail.

The flaw was discovered after the iOS 5 roll-out, but it's possible that it's been around as long as the iPad 2 has. The first-generation iPad is not affected, as it doesn't have a magnetic sensor for shutting off the screen.

Thankfully, until there's an official fix from Apple, you can protect yourself, though the measure comes with a minor inconvenience. All you have to do is toggle off the "iPad Cover Lock/Unlock" feature. (You can do this under the "General" tab in the "Settings" app.) You'll have to turn off your screen manually when you close the cover, but at least you'll be safe from snooping.

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