back to article Dark web drug sellers shutter location-tracking EXIF data from photos

Criminals have started to aggressively erase EXIF metadata from their photos to make it harder for authorities to locate them, Harvard University students Paul Lisker and Michael Rose find. Unbeknownst to most, digital cameras and smartphones that shoot in JPG or TIFF formats write information on where a photograph was taken, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    *unless spoofed*

    chilling words ... am I alone in fearing for anyone in the UK living in a location that has been spoofed - possibly by some forum plugin which scrambles rather then excises the EXIF location data ?

    What - you mean there are plugins which do that ? *And* forums which use them ??

    What is the world coming to.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: *unless spoofed*

      > chilling words ... am I alone in fearing for anyone in the UK living in a location that has been spoofed

      You are right to be afraid. Police will mindlessly follow this sort of data without any sanity checking.

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/08/10/maxmind_lawsuit/

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: *unless spoofed*

      "with mossing missing their EXIF data."

      Is this written in American or something? It's not English anyway...

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: *unless spoofed*

        > Is this written in American or something? It's not English anyway...

        If the mossing's missing then the stoning's rolling

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: *unless spoofed*

        "with mossing missing their EXIF data."

        now fixed to

        "with most missing their EXIF data"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    where a photograph was taken

    well, MOST cameras (digicams) do NOT have a built-in gps, and linking it with a phone to tag photos is a short-lived gimmick (try once, never bothered again), so the "where" is a bit over the top. Likewise the when, which can be set to any time you chose. Your mobile though... well, you never know what it does, and what any one of its shitload of apps and services does...

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: where a photograph was taken

      Hmm. I wonder what the exif shows on a mobile phone image with location services turned off?

      "Location services must be turned on in high resolution" <-- bets?

      1. Chris 125

        Re: where a photograph was taken

        On Android at least, the first time you use the camera on a new phone it asks you whether you want to turn ON geolocation (yes, that's right folks - it's off by default).

        Assuming it's a Marshmallow or later handset, it will then ask you to confirm you want to give the camera app access to your location. So that's two steps before it stores the lat/long in the EXIF.

        Even if you answered yes to both of those without meaning to, you can go into the Camera app and turn off the saving of location data.

        Finally, if you share the image from the Google Photos app, there is a setting (which admittedly is off by default) which strips location data from the shared photo.

        Just one last thing - they found 229 photos with location data in, out of 44 million files. It's not exactly a massive amount, is it?

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: where a photograph was taken

          I just tested my 6P, and while it doesn't store the location, it does store the "GPS Img Direction" which is the compass direction the phone was facing when it took the picture, according to exiftool.

          That's something I didn't know.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: where a photograph was taken

        Shows no location information for pictures taken with a Samsung S4. Grab a copy of the exiftool and check your phone to see how it behaves.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: where a photograph was taken

      Like to see why you got down voted so much for saying digicams don't have GPS.

      Higher end ones do, but happy snappers tend not to.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: where a photograph was taken

        in other quarters I'd venture to say that it's because: MY mobile's camera (and ALL my mates') have got gps built in! :D

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: where a photograph was taken

        More and more cameras now have a built-in GPS, even some cheaper ones. After all, it's even difficult to find a phone without a GPS today, and how many photos are taken with phone now?

        Actually, you may be surprises some high-end ones may not have one (but as accessory), because they may need to be used in places when having a GPS - active or not - may be really frowned upon, or have you jailed, or in the worst case, killed.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: where a photograph was taken

        I`m not sure what your definition of `higher end`may be. No GPS in my $4,000 camera body.

        Some cameras concentrate on the image, not on bells and whistles. YMMV.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: where a photograph was taken

        > Like to see why you got down voted so much for saying digicams don't have GPS.

        Perhaps because of the assumption that all EXIF that matters is location and time related?

        From a forensic point of view, even if you do not know reliably, or at all, where and when a pic was taken, the presence or absence of certain EXIF files, and their values, still provide valuable information such as allowing you to correlate groups of pictures or, let's say, the EXIF says a shot was taken with an ACME Ultra-XX 9000, and you happen to be found in possession of one of those (and an AK-74 on the other hand, and a nose covered in white powder, for good measure), things may look just a tad more incriminating all of a sudden.

    3. John Lilburne

      Re: where a photograph was taken

      I suspect that most of these things are taken on a smartphone which does have GPS. It is surprising how many devices these days have GPS and imaging capabilities. GPS tagging of photos isn't so much of a gimmick for most people either. If they are using services like flickr the GPS data will position the images on maps. Knowing exactly where something was taken can be useful. Whilst I certainly wouldn't want GPS data on images I've taken at home if I'm out and about photographing insects in woodland, meadows, and marshes the GPS data is important for the county recorders. When abroad GPS data could be useful as a reminder that a particular sequence of images where taken at location AAa not at AAb.

      GPS data has some uses but one needs to be careful as to whether to include it in any images uploaded to the web.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: where a photograph was taken

        GPS tagging really should be off by default, but this option has a future use (possibly). 40 years from the moment the picture was taken, someone might like to try recreate it. Think enthusiasts of geological locations, some historians and even maybe children trying to recreate the wedding day of their parents or grand parents. All I really have to say about the feature.

        Not sure if a script would really search for GPS coordinates versus just finding the JPEG header and trunacting the image file. Also supplying rewritten, false GPS data can lead to patterns, best to remove it all (says something about those couple hundred with it intact...a place to start).

        1. MrZoolook

          Re: where a photograph was taken

          Quote: "GPS tagging really should be off by default, but this option has a future use (possibly). 40 years from the moment the picture was taken, someone might like to try recreate it."

          More likely, 40 years after it was taken, Apple will patent it and sue the original artist retroactively.

      2. Tom_

        Re: where a photograph was taken

        Flickr supports geofencing, where the data is still there, but if it puts the photo in a defined area then the data will be kept private from other users.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the place the photos were taken within one or two kilometres

    oh.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: the place the photos were taken within one or two kilometres

      Odd, given that GPS is generally accurate to a dekameter or so.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is news... how?

    "0.01% of images still had EXIF data. Some criminals are therefore stupid." - Well, duh.

    This is news, how, exactly? News is supposed to tell us something we don't know?

    1. art guerrilla

      Re: This is news... how?

      well, i, for one, didn't know criminals were so *smart*: .01% ? ? ?

      are you kidding ? if you had a cohort of non-criminal users, they couldn't manage 99.99% IF THEIR LIVES DEPENDED UPON IT...

  5. John Lilburne

    First rule when getting a camera ...

    ... turn the GPS location thing off. Had to laugh a couple of years ago when some kid posted images of his pride and joy to wikipedia Commons complete with GPS data that located his bedroom.

  6. Crisp Silver badge

    The criminal underground are finally catching up with 4chan

    Posting a jpg with exif data was just asking to get trolled (or worse...)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The criminal underground are finally catching up with 4chan

      Pretty likely to get a several dozen pizzas delivered at the very least :-)

  7. 1Rafayal

    whats up with all the AC's on this one?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We are the sort to turn off EXIF, kinda self explanatory.

      I would like to know the who and the why they added EXIF in the first place? To me it serves no purpose as I took the photo therefore I know where and when it was.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        In case you forget down the road, in case you're off the beaten path, in case the photo is being used as evidence (investigator cameras will want geotagging to solidify photographic evidence in court). There are many legitimate uses for a geotagged photograph. It's all a matter of knowing it's there and judging whether or not to use it. In my case, I leave it on, but then I only use the phone camera in ways where knowing the location doesn't hurt me any (pictures of public locations where the GPS coordinates are already known or social settings where everyone already knows the location).

        1. John Savard Silver badge

          The feature may have a legitimate purpose, but whatever led to anyone thinking it should be anything but off by default?

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            It normally IS off. You're normally prompted to turn it on the first time you use the Camera app, and there's nothing stopping you saying no, so it's pure opt-in.

  8. Tom Chiverton 1

    "Unbeknownst to most,"

    Does no one read Little Brother ?

  9. Marcus Fil
    Joke

    And what am I offered...

    for a file containing EXIF compatible locations of all Police stations, spy agencies, MP's surgeries, news companies etc.?

  10. Gene Cash Silver badge

    EXIF editing

    There are 5 or 6 tools in the Debian repository that allow you to actually edit the EXIF information, not just delete it. So apparently I took this picture of Hawaii while I was standing at the White House in Washington, DC. I have an extreme telephoto lens I'm willing to sell you!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its possible sometimes to identify the owner / rough location a photo was taken without GPS data in the EXIF.

    Im not sure if its the same researcher mentioned in the article, but someone at a con gave a talk about creating a database of EXIF information trawled from social media sites, they then were able to match up things like models/serial numbers (which some cameras add to EXIF) from dark net photos to the photos on social media sites and thus knew the real identity of of the person owning the camera.

    EXIF data is largely unknown to the masses, a friend was once fighting a landlord on a DPS case, the landlord had submitted photos calming to be after the tenant was in the property. EXIF data said otherwise.... surprisingly the friend won the argument when this was pointed out.

  12. JaitcH
    Happy

    Try Metability QuickFix

    I use Metability QuickFix. It’s a small, free program that will wipe the GPS data from photos you have.

    With a a smartphone camera you can delete their GPS coordinates, by opening the Camera app and hunt through its settings until you find the Location option. Different places on different smartphones. With Android phones alone, manufacturers heavily customize the Camera App, even from phone to phone.

    iPhone, you’ll need to open the Location Services configuration pane and disable location access for the Camera app.

  13. Pete4000uk

    Thanks

    I didn't think of that!

  14. davidp231

    1.5 Terabits of data?

  15. Gde

    Simple editing

    All EXIF data should indicate photos were taken at a local government, court or law enforcement building. Probably about 30% of the child porn already does, but I'm suggesting falsifying data.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Simple editing

      Cameras have started adding cryptographic signatures to safeguard against spoofing. Some implementations are better than others.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019