Sunday, April 24, 2011

Internet Probe Can Track You Down

Everyone knows that every computer connected to the Internet has an internet protocol (IP) address, however, it's not so simple to track the exact physical location of a specific IP address. Or, is it.

Well, now that we know that Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Google’s Android smartphones constantly track users physical location, storing the data in unencrypted files that can be read easily by anyone who finds or steals your iPhone, it turns out that although these devices make it much easier to track you, they're not even necessary to find your physical location, 

New Scientist reports that it's possible to use "businesses and universities as landmarks to achieve much higher accuracy.”

Closing in

The new method zooms in through three stages to locate a target computer. The first stage measures the time it takes to send a data packet to the target and converts it into a distance – a common geolocation technique that narrows the target's possible location to a radius of around 200 kilometres.

Wang and colleagues then send data packets to the known Google Maps landmark servers in this large area to find which routers they pass through. When a landmark machine and the target computer have shared a router, the researchers can compare how long a packet takes to reach each machine from the router; converted into an estimate of distance, this time difference narrows the search down further. "We shrink the size of the area where the target potentially is," explains Wang.

Finally, they repeat the landmark search at this more fine-grained level: comparing delay times once more, they establish which landmark server is closest to the target. The result can never be entirely accurate, but it's much better than trying to determine a location by converting the initial delay into a distance or the next best IP-based method. On average their method gets to within 690 metres of the target and can be as close as 100 metres – good enough to identify the target computer's location to within a few streets.
Moreover, creepy researchers are harvesting a wealth of intimate detail from our cellphone data, uncovering the hidden patterns of our social lives, travels, risk of disease—even our political views.

Just try not to get yourself on the Main Core list, which supposedly lists more than 8 million Americans.
“There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.”
-- senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations,

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