Digital Security and Smartphones – a Lexicans P.S.A.

I’ve come late to the Smartphone parade – having used a flip phone until last year. Now this iPhone has become so embedded in my daily routines – reminding me for appointments, checking up on my only (Lexican’s naturally) Facebook group, and using that camera.

That camera is the reason I shed my 6 months old iPhone 5S and got the 6SE – with an even better resolution….

For years I wondered why a camera could be so important to a “smartphone” – aren’t these disparate functions?

While the technology was there (Kodak even invented the digital camera back in the 1970s – but never developed it for fear of hurting their film sales), it took Steve Jobs to link the 2 allowing people to take pictures and instantaneously send them – anywhere in the world.

A good friend of mine – who was for over 40 years a familiar byline as a photographer on our major newspaper, was telling me that many papers now are just giving the reporters Smartphones – they email their news pictures straight to the editors…No long developing time, no passing the picture from desk to desk to see what is printed, it goes straight to editor who will place it in the newspaper (also digitally formatted, I would assume).

Anyway, before I go further off on a tangent that isn’t germane to the title, virtually all digital photographs contain Metadata. Metadata is simply data that describes other data.

Only when you take a picture and send it you are usually unaware of any of this. You don’t see any reference to it. It is a section of all those bits on the digital file that is the picture  – 0’s and 1’s – dedicated to describing the information about that picture of Aunt Sally you just took. 

And prior to Smartphones, this wasn’t of concern to people. It contained information such as the F-Stop, camera make and shutter speed.

But with Smartphones came GPS capabilities.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had a nice collector’s car. It was the kind of car that has the insurance companies worried about where you store it, and what security does it have? It was a car that while beautiful, one couldn’t just drive to the mall and park it.

I wanted more than anything to take a picture of it and show it to my fellow gearheads, but then realized that a picture available to the world with this Metadata giving the exact location probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. (that could be the subject of another post, when you end up being owned by “things” rather than owning them!).

The designers liked to incorporate this feature because many times  you’d like to know where and when  you took the picture a few months/years in the future?

You can probably turn off the location feature on your camera (I haven’t really checked on my iPhone) but in any event, be aware of this when transmitting your pictures around. If you turned off this feature, no need to read further.

Until Apple came out with their upgraded operating system (iOS 10) one had to get this data by using another app or program, easily available. Now with iOS 10 when scrolling through my pictures all I have to do is tap on “details” and it tells me where the picture was taken, down to the street address.

And it’s very accurate. The technology that correlates a long-number longitude and latitude to a street address must be absolutely amazing. That computer is doing a lot behind the scenes. And your Smartphone is communicating to some huge computer with all of this data stored.

Can you imagine the size of a data base that contains the location of  every street address to every structure in the world? And how do they update it – which changes constantly?

Don’t know about the Android side of things. I suspect that they would access the same data base, wherever that is.

I have noticed with a little experimentation that some websites remove this Metadata when you upload the picture. This one (WordPress) does remove it.

Others don’t. If you can download the picture, it is worth investigating. Better yet if you don’t want people to have this information, make sure it is removed before uploading.

There are programs and apps that will do this removal for you if you want to upload pictures.

I bring all this up because I mentioned this to someone up uploaded a picture of herself – and my trusty iPhone gave me her home address, which she probably had no intention of giving to the world. I mentioned this to her, and she corrected it.

Just be aware of the data you are sending….

Now, about Apple’s idea of automatically moving my cc# (necessary to have on file at their app store) and “assuming” I want to use it in this app on my phone  called wallet ….That could be a wider subject on digital security.

The digital age has brought amazing new capabilities to the world with the ability to move any bit of digitized information anywhere in the world but that is the proverbial double-edged sword.

Be aware….




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4 responses to “Digital Security and Smartphones – a Lexicans P.S.A.

  1. edwardolsen

    Bill et al,
    Social media (facebook, snapchat, instagram, etc, etc) are fraught with danger. And combining social media with smart phones ups the ante greatly.
    I have a neighbor who uses social media and activates location services on his smart phone. He has noticed that wherever he goes, ads show up on his smart phone identifying business that may be of interest to him based on his use of google services and social media.
    I strongly recommend one and all to visit these web sites at least every other day:
    In particular, the Krebs site is VERY informative. Search through his archives to see “embrace the freeze” and the various scams foisted on the consumer. BEWARE debit cards! Do not use a debit card for anything except transactions at an ATM that is firmly affixed to a bank wall. Set the limit for purchases on your debit card to the minimum possible, likely $1. You can set a different limit for cash withdrawals at an ATM. if you lose your credit card, it is then useless to the thief.
    Those of you with children — exercise the same caution with social media as you would concerning a loaded gun in the house. It is a direct conduit for all sorts of very nasty people into your home and children’s minds.
    And look with a jaundiced eye at the IoT (Internet of Things). Anything you hook up to the internet can be used against you. That goes for bluetooth devices as well.

    • Bill Brandt

      Thanks Edward I will copy and paste your advice to a word document on my desktop. To tell you the truth, I would not be on Facebook if it weren’t for the Lexicans. I am by nature a private person and a lot of the stuff they want – like even birthdays – I don’t see why they need to know. Maybe I am a curmudgeon.

      I was told even avoid using publicly-available USB devices.

      I don’t do any financial transfers – even a lookup – on my Smartphone – WiFi or no WiFi.

      The younger people seem to embrace social media without considering the consequences.

      Case in point: A good friend of mine is from Hong Kong and his son was to be married. His future daughter in law from Texas puts on her Facebook page her opinion that her to-be in-laws are not too smart.

      The next day my friend gets a call from his sister in Hong Kong asking him what that is all about.

  2. edwardolsen

    Bill et al,
    Brian Krebs has put his life on the line to report on the internet and ATM and point of sale criminal element. He has been “swatted” multiple times (armed police come to your door at 3 AM because anonymous call that an armed man was holding hostages at his home address). International gangsters have shipped heroin to his home and called police to report he is a drug dealer. He has good communication with his local police force as a result and they now know why he is a target.
    If you ever go to Mexico for vacation, do NOT use any ATM. You can look up why in his archives. Look carefully at every point of sale device where you swipe or dip your credit card (remember, NEVER a debit card). There are overlays and inserts that are hard to spot.
    And, yes, do not use WiFi hotspots — in fact, leave your WiFi off on your devices while outside of your home. Only use your home WiFi network.
    Give out as little information as possible on the internet. You would be surprised what can be learned about your personal life and financial life for free or for a nominal fee of $25. Your home address, how much you paid for your home, what your taxes are, your utilities, etc, etc.
    If you have not created a user ID at the IRS or Social Security sites, do so immediately (before somebody else does so). Again, search Krebs archive to see why.
    Finally, LONG passwords are the best defense. 20 characters (alphanumeric and special characters). And change them regularly, because the companies with which you do business do not have secure networks and password can be broken given enough CPU power and time.
    And do NOT reuse a password. Do not use the same password on another site.
    For fun, also check out this URL
    Note the sites that this one checks for your harvested user ID.

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