Cell Phone Tracking Firm Exposed Millions of Americans’ Real-time Locations

May 17, 2018 at 03:17PM
via Slashdot

Earlier this week, ZDNet shed some light on a company called LocationSmart that is buying your real-time location data from four of the largest U.S. carriers in the United States. The story blew up because a former police sheriff snooped on phone location data without a warrant, according to The New York Times. ZDNet is now reporting that the company "had a bug in its website that allowed anyone to see where a person is located -- without obtaining their consent." An anonymous reader shares an excerpt: "Due to a very elementary bug in the website, you can just skip that consent part and go straight to the location," said Robert Xiao, a PhD. student at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, in a phone call. "The implication of this is that LocationSmart never required consent in the first place," he said. "There seems to be no security oversight here." The "try" website was pulled offline after Xiao privately disclosed the bug to the company, with help from CERT, a public vulnerability database, also at Carnegie Mellon. Xiao said the bug may have exposed nearly every cell phone customer in the U.S. and Canada, some 200 million customers. The researcher said he started looking at LocationSmart's website following ZDNet's report this week, which followed from a story from The New York Times, which revealed how a former police sheriff snooped on phone location data without a warrant. The sheriff has pleaded not guilty to charges of unlawful surveillance. He said one of the APIs used in the "try" page that allows users to try the location feature out was not validating the consent response properly. Xiao said it was "trivially easy" to skip the part where the API sends the text message to the user to obtain their consent. "It's a surprisingly simple bug," he said.



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