April 10, 2006
iPod Used as an Identity Theft Cache -- Only the Beginning
The San Francisco Chronicle reported yet another use for iPods: storing lots of stolen identity-related information. iPod users have known for quite some time that they can be used as portable storage for computer files, just like a thumb drive. Perhaps more troubling than a criminal using it that way is that the San Francisco police sounded surprised and considered this novel -- and that was the fraud division. They got their man through a sting operation, though, and I'm glad to hear it given the details of the identity thefts and other crimes perpetrated.
But it underscores the need for law enforcement and security professionals to consider new uses for everyday tech tools and gadgets, especially when theft of data with iPods is nothing new. As the Tech Law Prof Blog correctly pointed out on this issue, at least four years ago we learned that one could walk up to demo Macs in stores, plug in an iPod, and copy entire software programs for use on other Macs. I remember reading about this on Wired.com ("Have iPod, Will Secretly Bootleg") at the time. So why is this considered something "new"?
With all due respect to our police departments (I mean that sincerely), it sounds like they would benefit from a "Tech Culture 101"-type class. Give them some freebies to go play with -- iPods, thumb drives, camera phones, Treos, BlackBerries, Bluetooth devices, digital cameras, flash cards, etc. Show them how they work, how they capture, store, and transfer information, and perhaps most importantly, how easy it is to hide information on them "in plain sight". I hate to say this, but "you gotta think like a teen".
For example, it would not surprise me to hear one day very soon that someone was caught smuggling confidential information on one of the tiny flash cards inserted into innocuous-looking devices like a cell phone or a PSP (Play Station Portable). In fact, the PSP is quite a useful computer in its own right, well beyond playing games. Heck, you can already remotely control your home with it, not to mention all of these cool uses. Sony is also empowering it with the LocationFree console to stream all kinds of digital media to your PSP at any hotspot.
There's also a new project for porting Linux over to the PSP. As any hacker knows, once you've got Linux running on a capable device with Wi-Fi (yup, it's a Wi-Fi Finder too). . . well, it doesn't take much imagination, does it? Now that makes toting stolen info on your iPod très passé.