Every year, hackers become increasingly more skillful at stealing personal information. By learning to utilize “back doors,” that programmers put into their software, hackers can easily gain access to any and all of your information, from personal credit card info to social security numbers to addresses. With nearly 200 million Americans owning smart phones, hackers have started to focus in on this new gold mine of information…and unfortunately, many people fall prey to their scams.
They’ll commonly upload applications, or “apps,” that have hidden malware in them, and an unsuspecting user will download it, thinking it’s a game or some useful tool. Then, the malware will activate and search through all text messages, emails, contacts, and applications, gathering anything and everything it possibly can, and then relaying it back to the hacker who will then use it to his advantage.
This is one of the many concerns with mobile banking—if a hacker were to gain access to your phone, they could easily hack your password and transfer all of your money into their account, and by the time you realize it, the money would be gone. Others are more concerned about emails being hacked, as they often contain sensitive login information and password reset links, which hackers can use to gain access to your online accounts.
While most people are worried about protecting their financial information, however, hackers have turned their sights onto a new application called Snapchat. The app, launched in 2011, has now grown in popularity among teenagers, with an estimated 166 million daily users. It’s used to send pictures and videos to friends, that quickly “delete,” themselves afterwards, which is a safe haven in a world filled with privacy concerns.
The hackers, as they always do, have found a way to manipulate this, though—right now, at this very second, they could be stalking your daughter, accessing her images, who she’s with, what she’s doing, and even the street she’s on. “It’s giving out kids’ addresses,” says Indiana State Police Cyber Crimes Youth Specialist, Stephanie Nancarrow.
“It’s giving out school info if they post at school, job info. Predators actually get drawn to this stuff—well now I get to see everything about this kid. I know what school they go to now. I know where they live. I know that they play baseball,” she added.
Hackers accomplish this feat by taking advantage of a recent update in Snapchat, known as “Snap Map.” The update is an opt-in function that lets people share their locations on a map, posting locations right down to the street they’re on. What’s worse, too, is that it not only broadcasts your location when you take a picture with the app, it also broadcasts your location when you simply open the app.
“Whenever you’re snapping, wherever you’re at, it’s documenting your location of where you are at,” Stephanie Nancarrow states. “On mine right now, it tells you I’m on 21st Street. It has an outline of a person—that’s me.” Many parents are concerned over this new feature, believing that it will enable pedophiles and kidnappers to take advantage of America’s youth.
To make matters worse, Snapchat isn’t as formal as Facebook—meaning that you often friend people you’ve never even met before, or just briefly met at a party. It isn’t uncommon for girls to give away their Snapchat instead of their phone numbers.
One concerned parent, Adrianne Sims added her teenage daughter on Snapchat, to keep up with what her daughter’s up to. “If I click on her, it tells me exactly where the street she’s at—the corner, everything. That’s scary,” she says. “And most of my friends are adults, so there aren’t a lot on here. I’m sure if I went on my daughter’s, her entire screen would be lit up with her friends and where her friends are.”
“That means that random people can see when she’s at work,” Sims adds. “They can see when she’s going to and from work, where she lives, and that’s too much information to have out there.” According to WTHR, an NBC-affiliated news source, police are also very concerned over the app’s potential for abuse.
According to cyber security experts, there are ways for your teenage children to protect themselves from potential predators, however. There’s three modes to Snap Map that you can select by pinching the screen where you’d normally snap a photo or video. The modes are: select friends, my friends, and ghost mode.
Police urge you tell your children to select the ghost mode setting, so that they can see themselves on the map, but they’ll be hidden from anyone else. Some experts even urge you to take your security a step further. “The best thing they can do is just turn off location services for the app completely,” says Nancarrow.
While many concerned parents are working with their children to select the right safety settings, some fear it may be too late. “Once you put your information about your location out there, it’s out there and it may be too late,” Sims says.