NSA warns smartphone users of ‘large scale data tracking’

Common features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can reveal sensitive details about users like their daily routines

The National Security Agency (NSA) has advised those involved in sensitive lines of work, as well as the privacy-conscious, to deactivate many common smartphone features to prevent leaking insights from their location data.

Equipment such as wireless sniffers can be used to track your location data through any combination of GPS and wireless signals such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, even if mobile phone service is deactivated, the NSA has claimed. 

Even if all wireless radios are disabled on your smartphone, various sensors on your device provide sufficient data to calculate location, while Bluetooth settings in some devices mean it can never truly be disabled, betraying your data. 

The risk extends beyond smartphones, to Internet of Things (IoT) devices and fitness trackers as well as smart medical devices and built-in vehicle communications. Apps and social media services, meanwhile, may collect and aggregate data that exposes a user’s information. Many of these request permission for location and other resources that are not needed for their functioning. 

“Location data can be extremely valuable and must be protected. 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,” the advisory said.

“Mitigations reduce, but do not eliminate, location tracking risks in mobile devices. Most users rely on features disabled by such mitigations, making such safeguards impractical. Users should be aware of these risks and take action based on their specific situation and risk tolerance.”

Related Resource

Staying ahead of the game in the world of data

Create successful marketing campaigns by understanding your customers better

Download now

The organisation, speaking to the sensitive nature of the work done by US security officials and others in sensitive roles, added that users should apply mitigations to the greatest possible extent.

Those concerned about compromising their location data should disable location services as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when these services aren’t needed. Airplane mode should also be enabled when devices aren’t in use.

In addition, apps should be given as few permissions as possible, including setting privacy settings to ensure apps are not using or sharing location data. Users should also avoid using apps related to location if possible since these inherently expose user location data. 

Among other changes, advertising permissions should also be disabled to the greatest possible extent and the advertising ID should be reset on a regular basis, weekly at a minimum. This is in addition to using a virtual private network (VPN), turning off features that allow you to track a lost or stolen device, and minimise web browsing.

Featured Resources

Modern governance: The how-to guide

Equipping organisations with the right tools for business resilience

Free Download

Cloud operational excellence

Everything you need to know about optimising your cloud operations

Watch now

A buyer’s guide to board management software

Improve your board’s performance

The real world business value of Oracle autonomous data warehouse

Lead with a 417% five-year ROI

Download now

Recommended

US gov issues fresh warning over Russian threat to critical infrastructure
cyber warfare

US gov issues fresh warning over Russian threat to critical infrastructure

12 Jan 2022

Most Popular

Dell XPS 15 (2021) review: The best just got better
Laptops

Dell XPS 15 (2021) review: The best just got better

14 Jan 2022
Sony pulls out of MWC 2022
Business operations

Sony pulls out of MWC 2022

14 Jan 2022
Synology DiskStation DS2422+ review: A cube of great capacity
network attached storage (NAS)

Synology DiskStation DS2422+ review: A cube of great capacity

10 Jan 2022