Fugitive McAfee exposed by basic geotagging feature

The IT pioneer, wanted for questioning in a shooting in Belize, has eluded police for weeks. Then an online magazine posted a photo of him.

Fugitive tech pioneer John McAfee, who has eluded authorities in Belize for several weeks, had his location exposed Dec. 4 by a basic smart-phone feature — the inclusion of GPS location data in images taken with a phone, or messages sent from a phone.

McAfee, who has blogged, tweeted and sent out podcasts while on the lam, met with several journalists from Vice magazine, which posted a picture of them together on its site, under the headline, “We are with John McAfee right now, suckers,” the Washington Post reported.

Whoever took the photo hadn’t turned off the phone’s geotagging feature, however, and a hacker who goes by the handle Simple Nomad extracted the coordinates and tweeted the location, which turned out to be a villa south of the Belize border in Guatemala, the Post reported. (UPDATE: McAfee has been arrested in Guatemala for entering the country illegally.)

Security experts have tried to raise awareness for years about the potential risks from geotagging features that smart-phone users might not know about. In 2010, researchers warned that smart phones carried by U.S. troops could reveal location information that could endanger lives or missions. Other security experts have warned about potential privacy risks when they post their photos online.

In April, an alleged member of Anonymous, wanted for posting the home addresses of police officers online, was captured after pictures he posted taunting investigators revealed his location.

Inexpensive software is available for extracting location information from posted pictures taken by any device with a Global Positioning System receiver. But users also can avoid the problem by disabling the geotagging features, which is what McAfee may have thought his interviewers had done.

McAfee, who founded the IT security company that still bears his name, has been wanted for questioning since Nov. 11, when a neighbor was killed by gunshot near McAfee’s home. After his location was revealed, McAfee eventually admitted he was in Guatemala and would be contacting a lawyer, according to the Post.

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