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Geo-Tagging Gives Away Location of Fugitive AV Guru

John McAfee, founder of the McAfee virus scanner, has been on the run since early November when police in the Central American country of Belize started seeking McAfee as a “person of interest” in the death of McAfee’s neighbor. Accompanied by a journalist with Vice magazine and a female friend, McAfee took a picture which was published by the magazine in yesterday’s online edition.

However, the journalist apparently omitted the fact that most smartphones add extra data to the digital image in the EXIF fields, such as creation time, camera maker and model and (for phones equipped with GPS) geotag information – the exact longitude and longitude where the photo was taken.

EXIF data extraction carried by Akex Wilhelm of The Next Web however revealed that the journalist did not disable geotagging in the camera software, so GPS coordinates got stored along with other data within the picture, revealing the exact location of the fugitive.

Geotagging allows the user to remember where exactly photos were taken when taking a bunch of them, such as during a vacation. However, it is also a great privacy risk for photo owners, as they become easier to stalk by anyone who knows how to read EXIF metadata and who has access to the photos. This is why most social networks strip EXIF information during the upload process. However, images taken with phone or intelligent compact cameras posted directly on blogs preserve these details and make them accessible to anyone.

Yesterday’s incident should serve as a warning about the dangers of oversharing information over the web. After all, if a data security legend fell victim to it, regular computer users don’t stand a chance.

About The Author

Senior E-Threat Analyst

Bogdan Botezatu is living his second childhood at Bitdefender as senior e-threat analyst. When he is not documenting sophisticated strains of malware or writing removal tools, he teaches extreme sports such as surfing the web without protection or rodeo with wild Trojan horses. He believes that most things in life can be beat with strong heuristics and that antimalware research is like working for a secret agency: you need to stay focused at all times, but you get all the glory when you catch the bad guys.

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