businessman with smartphone (TATSIANAMA/Shutterstock.com)

NSA warns of exposing location data

The National Security Agency is reminding users of Defense Department and other national security systems used for intelligence or military missions to be sure their mobile devices and computers are not exposing location data.

In an Aug. 4 cybersecurity advisory, NSA warned users of the risks inherent in using connected devices that employ Bluetooth and Wi-Fi  and transmit and receive cellular signals that can be used to identify the location of a mobile device even without provider cooperation.

"When location exposure could be detrimental to a mission, users should prioritize mission risk and apply location tracking mitigations to the greatest extent possible," the guidance states. “It can reveal details about the number of users in a location, user and supply movements, daily routines (user and organizational), and can expose otherwise unknown associations between users and locations.”

NSA is also concerned about the proliferation of location and personal data on applications and social media networks, noting that even taking privacy settings into account, "information [on social networks] may be exposed to a wider audience than intended." The guidance also reminds users that the content of pictures and certain metadata encoded in photographs can also yield location data.

NSA advises users to take certain steps, including disabling connectivity and location settings when not in use and operating in airplane mode when devices are not in use. Additionally, location data sharing should be turned off for the device and for individual apps, including those that rely on location data such as mapping, traffic and fitness trackers. Additionally, NSA advises tuning privacy settings to limit advertising tracking, turning off any "find my phone" settings that allow for the remote pinpointing of devices and using an anonymizing virtual private network to shield location information.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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