Sunday, April 3, 2011

Check Your Settings: Phone Pictures Are Risky Business

Pictures taken with smartphones and uploaded to social-networking sites can put you and your children at risk. Such pictures may have the location at which the picture was taken embedded, and a criminal can use that information to find the sites that you or your children frequent. It's key to recognize the risks and change your settings.

If you're like many smartphone Relevant Products/Services users, you're posting images to Facebook, Picasa and other social-media networks. But did you know that the photos you upload (or even e-mail) could be putting you -- and your kids -- at risk? That's because your smartphone is equipped with technology Relevant Products/Services that can allow hackers to find out where you live.

Here's how it works: Smartphones have geolocation technology that tags photos with the location. Criminals can look at the information coded into those files and find out where you live, work or play (wherever you were when you took the picture). When the criminal zeroes in on the area where he lives to find images of children, all he has to do is click on the photo and select View Image Info to find out exactly where the photo was taken.

An NBC Action News report being circulated on YouTube offers an example in which news reporters were able to use the geolocation technology to not only locate a child's home, but also her bedroom, her day-care facility, a fast-food restaurant the family frequents, and the specific area of a park where the child plays. Although it requires a browser plug-in to fully translate the photo information into something useful, the danger is real.

What Should You Post Online?

Security firm McAfee confirms that location services such as foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places can easily search, track, and plot the whereabouts of friends as well as strangers.

With just a few clicks, cybercriminals can see in real time who is tweeting, where they are located, what they are saying, and what their interests are, as well as what operating systems and applications they are using. McAfee Labs predicts that cybercriminals will continue to use these tactics across popular social-networking sites even more this year than in the past. But now, the ability for stalkers to access Relevant Products/Services and track faces, not just names, is even scarier, especially for parents.

"As the Internet becomes a mechanism for people to share increasingly intimate details of their lives -- which seems to be the case in social networking and other sorts of sites -- questions arise about what you should [and shouldn't] share," said Charles King, principal analyst at PundIT. "Especially when you get into issues of geolocation, people are not just talking about what they are doing and when they are doing it, but exactly where they are doing it."

The Bigger Picture

Indeed, the risks of uploading your smartphone photos to the Web are real. However, King points out that there are greater dangers than criminals searching for photos, then using software to translate geolocation data Relevant Products/Services into actionable information, and then actually committing a crime based on those details.

For those worried about their children's safety, keep in mind that most child abductions are carried out by a family member, or someone who knows the family member -- not some random stranger or cyberstalker.

"You've always got to take stories from television news outlets with a grain of salt since many seem to be more obsessed with sensationalistic stories that touch people's nerves than they are with reporting accurately," King said. "Yes, there could be a danger. But there are other, bigger dangers."

How To Protect Yourself

In terms of reducing the risk related to the geotracing of cell phone photos, there are simple ways you can protect yourself, your friends, and your family.

For starters, you can change your social-networking settings to private so only people you invite into your network can see your photos. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of practice to find all the right settings with Facebook and some other sites, and plenty of users forget to take the time to check their privacy settings. Restricting privacy and information to friends can be critically important.

Also, and perhaps most important, you can turn off the GPS (global Relevant Products/Services positioning system) settings on your smartphone's camera to prevent it from capturing the location information. That step is important not just in terms of photos you upload to social networks, but also for photos you email, since ultimately, those travel over the Web, as well.

And, last but not least: spread the word.

Ask your friends, family and associates to take these steps as well -- restricting their privacy settings and turning off the GPS function on their smartphone cameras -- so that you and your loved ones can't be inadvertently tracked through photos they post.

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