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PhoneStalking: The Dangers of Location Based Services
Although Location Based Services (LBS) has been around for awhile, I am still amazed by the sheer amount of people who do not consider the privacy invasion taking place by using LBS and your currently installed phone apps. As well, although you need to worry about Geolocation, tracking and privacy invasion in many different systems (Android, etc.) let’s start with the basics and how to secure your Apple-based device.
The threat of LBS, GPS and Geolocation
Quite simply, Location Based Services (LBS for short) uses technology to identify your location on a map. When LBS is enabled (and it can be by default), your mobile device will allow you to be tracked. How you ask? Let’s look at the many ways this can take place and the threats that can emerge:
- Devices such as Apple’s iPhone uses LBS. You can learn how to set it up, turn it off and what it does by visiting Apple’s knowledge base.
- You should be aware that not only does your mobile device allow you to be tracked, you can add to it in ways where the tracking is more defined and easier to accomplish. What this means is, if you have a phone number and pass a cell tower that you ping (tracks your location), you are traceable via your phone location. This has very little to do with LBS. With LBS you add another layer of traceability to your device. You may realize this now by opening a map app (such as Google Maps) with LBS turned on which will allow the app to pinpoint exactly where you are on a map.
- With LBS, you add the ability for your applications loaded on your mobile device to further pinpoint your location using your cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS or other functions and services. Geolocation (or tagging) can map you on a grid using longitude and latitude. This allows applications (such as map apps) to be able to use these systems to pinpoint your location for the application.
- The data when collected could be stored. According to Siciliano, Carnegie Mellon University has identified more than 80 location-sharing services that either lack privacy policies or collect and save user data for an indefinite period of time.
- When service such as your phone’s camera have access to pinpoint your location, you can take a picture and the metadata can be reviewed to show the exact position where it was taken, such as your home. A great example of this is when Adam Savage from “MythBusters’ uploaded a photo which revealed where he lived. Without turning this off, you leave yourself open to attack.
- Sites such as Social Media (Facebook), dating sites and many other sites where you may want to consider anonymity may cost you when you allow yourself to be located. You can be tracked to so that attackers can find patterns (when you are home or not or where you go) to launch more heinous attacks such as robbery, assault or stalking.
So, how do you protect yourself?
As mentioned earlier, we are going to focus on Apple and iOS for this article; however you need to consider this threat a viable one on other devices as well. For Apple, you simply need to turn off LBS.
Settings > Privacy > Location Services
According to Siciliano there are a few more tips you should consider: “Turn off your location services on your mobile phone or only leave it enabled for applications like maps. Most geo-location services are turned on by default.” “Be careful on what images and information you are sharing on social networks and when. For example, it’s best to wait until you are home to upload those vacation photos.” Also, make sure you check your privacy settings on your social networking sites that you’re sharing information on to make sure you are only sharing information with your friends and not everyone.” By following these tips you can start to secure your digital footprint and take back some of your lost privacy.
You should also consider Rich’s protection tips as well:
- Limit your personal information when signing up for accounts such as your home address, full name and so on. If you use these services, limit when information is allowed publically.
- If you use LBS, consider only turning on what you need and turning everything else off. Again, if you use it, you are allowing yourself to be tracked so there is an assumption of risk.
- Control the sites that use mapping and Geolocation, such as Social Media. Check the privacy settings within each one you use and specifically control how you want it used.
Read more on SciTech Connect from Rob:
- Help! I am a Victim of Digital Surveillance!
- Protect Yourself From Creepware!
- About the Wireshark Field Guide
Rob’s new book, Cyber Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Defense is available for purchase on the Elsevier Store. Use discount code “STC3014” at checkout and save up to 30% on your very own copy!
About the Author
Rob Shimonski (Twitter: @RobShimonski) is an experienced entrepreneur and an active participant in the business community. Rob is a best-selling author and editor with over 15 years experience developing, producing and distributing print media in the form of books, magazines and periodicals. To date, Rob has successfully created over 100 books that are currently in circulation. Rob has worked for countless companies to include CompTIA, Entrepreneur Magazine, Microsoft, McGraw Hill Education, Cisco, the National Security Agency and Digidesign.
Rob has an extremely diverse background in the print media industry filling roles such as author, co-author, technical editor, copy editor and developmental editor. Since print media shifted to the digital domain, Rob has focused the past decade on developing all of the needed skills to produce professional audio and video media. An expert in Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) design and video production, Rob has created over 500 different media packages to include commercials for TV, online advertising clips, audio podcasts and much more. Rob started to train others while in the US Marine Corps. Since, Rob has held a NY State teaching certificate as well as multiple trainer roles in colleges and trade schools across the world.
You can read more of his thoughts on cyber security at his personal blog here.
Rich, Laura. (2012). Stay Safe Using Location-based Services. Retrieved from
Siciliano, Robert. (2012). Don’t Let Location-Based Services Put You in Danger. Retrieved from
Apple. (2014). Understanding privacy and Location Services on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch with iOS 8. Retrieved from
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