Aug 15, 2013

    You could be stalked via online photos

    SHUTTERBUGS, take heed: The photographs you upload online from your smartphones can make you an easy target for someone to stalk you.

    That was the message of a news clip that has been garnering attention among the online community in Singapore.

    The video, a news report by American TV channel NBC Action News, demonstrated how publicly-accessible photographs on popular social-media websites could compromise the safety of children.

    Targeted mostly at parents, the report showed how using locational data embedded in photographs posted online, a person could easily map out where a child spends most of her time.

    The clip was posted on YouTube more than three years ago and it has received more than 15 million hits worldwide.

    Information-technology experts here said such threats are still very real, as more mobile-phone apps are increasingly tapping on smartphones' location capabilities.

    "The new wave of advertising is via mobile and in many instances, it's based on your location... (for example), apps that will tell you there's a great deal at a restaurant, just 50m away," said Mr Darren Cerasi, director of digital forensic company I-Analysis.

    The flipside for that personal convenience, Mr Cerasi said, is that we are constantly sharing information with these service providers about where we are.

    He recommends that users take a closer look at the settings in their smartphones, and see which apps are using the phone's location capabilities.

    He added that smartphones typically determine a user's location using a combination of three ways - the Global Positioning System (GPS), Wi-Fi hot spots which you connect to, and cellular triangulation, which can track a phone's rough signal location.

    Mr Rob Phillips, Asia-Pacific director of RP Digital Security, said that around 70 to 80 per cent of mobile devices he examines in the course of his work have location-services functions turned on.

    He said that besides giving away your location, the process of geo-tagging, which attaches locational data to media such as pictures, can have wider implications for national security.

    He cited a case in Iraq in 2007, when the exact location of American AH-64 Apache helicopters was leaked out after soldiers snapped photos of them, giving insurgents an easy target.

    Mr Phillips said that Facebook users have a layer of security as the social-media platform strips photographs of precise positional data, if any, and replaces it with a general location.

    However, Mr Handy Ong, an IT manager with 15 years of industry experience, said that should photos contain location data, it can be accessed easily using computer software.

    He added: "It's not rocket science."