Planning a Robbery from the Couch

28 02 2011

Today I took twenty minutes out of my time to plan a burglary – over the Internet. I identified an empty residence and Google even gave me directions to it.

After writing an article highlighting the dangers of location sharing over the Internet, I was challenged to prove my theory. I attempted to find a user that had checked into their own home via Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare, however I soon found a lot more.

1) I first had to find a social media user that had been sharing their location, but was unconnected to me. Difficult? No.

I Google searched ‘Facebook Places‘ and entered the Facebook Places group on Facebook.

From there I could not view who had liked the page, so instead I viewed those that had interacted with the page and picked the first Irish looking name I saw. I wouldn’t want to have to commute too far for work after all.

2) I found that the target’s Facebook was set to private. To view the profile I created a false Facebook account promoting discount deals in Ireland and added the target. Less than fifteen minutes later my request was accepted. Too easy.

3) I scrolled through their page to see if they had checked in at home. Bingo, GPS coordinates with a pin over the house! Fouraquare even offered directions, how kind.

Sensitive information has been blurred for privacy

The target had checked into both Facebook Places and Foursquare. This enabled me to compare both sets of coordinates and ensure that I was targeting the correct home. Using Google Street View I viewed the house and the cars parked outside.  Shocked? Read on.

Pin on the map displaying which house to target

4) I then searched their Facebook and Twitter for an indication of any valuables contained in the house. I also searched 123 People to save time. From various status updates I found that they owned an i-phone and a new Macbook. I even found out where the target tends to leave their car keys.

5) Before I waited until the target had checked in outside the home, I had to first ensure that they were the sole resident. As the target had listed their phone details I first considered ringing the target and posing as a ‘survey for cash’ worker who would ask the key question; ‘How many people occupy your residence’. A harmless question surely?

However, the target again made it too easy for me by posting a status update about ‘living on their own’.

6) I Google mapped the house once more and even used Google Street View to gain a 360 degree view of the target’s house.

360 degree view of the target’s house

7) Finally, I viewed their ‘work’ check ins and quickly figured out their work roster and when they were out of the house.

Did I rob the house? Of course not. However, within twenty minutes I had all of the necessary information to commit the crime – without getting off my chair!

This raises the question, who’s responsibility is it to ensure our safety is protected online? Is it Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare’s responsibility to educate the user? Is it the Government’s responsibility? Or does it just come down to the user and common sense?

If this isn’t addressed soon, could we see the realization of this blog? Criminals stalking victim’s online while they wait until a residence is empty?

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