Section 508

July 31st, 2014

Is Your Cat Selling You Out?

There has been a lot of press about a new website dedicated to that which fuels the Internet: Cat pictures.  A new site call “I know where your cat lives” leverages what they claim is over 15 million images tagged with the word “cat.”  On this web site, you can scroll and zoom the world map to discover cats locations pulled from networking sites like Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, and others, to find out EXACTLY where they live.  The icons roll up a number for each region; for the MD/DC/VA area today, there are 4933 tagged “cat houses” (two dozen just by my office) where I can zoom in to the street view and see the picture of the house under the associated cat photo. There is also a “random cat” button if you’re feeling lucky (my random cat search sent me to Madoi, Quinghai, China).

This site is a data visualization project of Owen Mundy, Associate Professor of Art at Florida State University; his blog here describes his project. He got the idea after noticing the feature of the iPhone Photo app that allows you to map all the pictures you’ve taken. Mundy wondered if someone could put together a macro-level view of all pictures, and figuring cats were the Internet’s least common denominator; the site was born.

How this relates to Cyber Security, this site is proving a point that we are revealing more information about ourselves (and our cats) than we realize. This is possible because most photos are taken with Smartphones and those images embed the geolocation of where you are at the time you tap your picture. It reminded me of a site setup about 5 years ago called, where you can search for who is not home based on social media postings (I suppose as reconnaissance before robbing them when not home). For example, you could give it away on your Twitter feeds, You: “having a great time in Malta today” combined with your friend: “Enjoying having your dog Rusty this week while you are away!” It’s even easier if you track someone’s FourSquare (or Swarm) activity where they voluntarily check in. But unlike manually revealing your whereabouts, Where Your Cat Lives leverages the acceptance that we all carry a tracking device that imprints our location on images and videos. Boss may be thinking you are home sick while that selfie you took on Instagram “recovering” in bed can be geolocated to Florida—oops! Like my discussion on privacy and the Internet of Things, we are desensitized to the amount of data we are revealing. We are accepting to reveal because it isn’t causing us harm, for now, and we consider it a convenience that we have the ability to provide friends and family constant notification of our activities (and what we’re eating).

So lesson here is to learn that you can turn off location services on your phone for photos, and even remove personal information on digital photos you have already downloaded on your computer; there are many references on the web how to do both. But maybe the best risk management is to take some quiet time to think about your smartphone activity, where you check in, what you say on social networking, what you remark on Twitter, and pretend if someone was “after you” how easy it would be to find you. If you feel some level of paranoia, you might want to change your behavior. However, if you want to support Mundy’s project, he has a kickstarter waiting on you to help out.

– Rick Doten, DMI Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

Tags: Cybersecurity Solutions Digital Security Mobile Security

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