Friday, March 16, 2012

Geotagging Poses Security Risks

Via US Army Homepage (Cheryl Rodewig) -

The question was posed by Brittany Brown, social media manager of the Online and Social Media Division at the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs. It may sound outlandish, but in the age of social geotagging, it can be a reality.

There are a number of location-based social media applications and platforms, including Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR, Shopkick, Loopt and Whrrl, currently on the market. They use GPS features, typically in the user's phone, to publish the person's location and offer rewards in the form of discounts, badges or points to encourage frequent check-ins.

Security risks for the military:

A deployed service member's situational awareness includes the world of social media. If a Soldier uploads a photo taken on his or her smartphone to Facebook, they could broadcast the exact location of their unit, said Steve Warren, deputy G2 for the Maneuver Center of Excellence, or MCoE.

"Today, in pretty much every single smartphone, there is built-in GPS," Warren said. "For every picture you take with that phone, it will automatically embed the latitude and longitude within the photograph."

Someone with the right software and the wrong motivation could download the photo and extract the coordinates from the metadata.

Warren cited a real-world example from 2007. When a new fleet of helicopters arrived with an aviation unit at a base in Iraq, some Soldiers took pictures on the flightline, he said. From the photos that were uploaded to the Internet, the enemy was able to determine the exact location of the helicopters inside the compound and conduct a mortar attack, destroying four of the AH-64 Apaches.


Ways to stay safe:

"In operations security, we talk about the adversary," said Kent Grosshans, MCoE OPSEC officer. "The adversary could be a hacker, could be terrorists, could be criminals; someone who has an intent to cause harm. The adversary picks up on pieces of information to put the whole puzzle together."

Grosshans suggests disabling the geotagging feature on your phone and checking your security settings to see who you're sharing check-ins with.

"If your husband's deployed and you go ahead and start posting all these pictures that are geotagged, now not only does an individual know your husband's deployed and he's not at home, but they know where your house is," he said.

Ultimately, it's about weighing the risks.

"Do you really want everyone to know the exact location of your home or your children's school?" Sweetnam said. "Before adding a location to a photo, Soldiers really need to step back and ask themselves, 'Who really needs to know this location information?'"

Grosshans said it's as important to Soldiers as to family members.

"Be conscious of what information you're putting out there," he said. "Don't share information with strangers. Once it's out there, it's out there. There's no pulling it back."

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