SPECIAL REPORT: Dangers of leaving phone open to cyber 'flashers'

SPECIAL REPORT: Dangers of leaving phone open to cyber 'flashers'

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A smartphone's wireless connection lets any user drag, drop and send pictures or messages with just a touch, but that convenience can also leave someone exposed to unwanted files.

Parents can imagine themselves in a public space, when all of a sudden a lewd image appears on a phone screen, with no clue where it came from, or even who sent it. 

This is all possible because of the AirDrop setting on iPhones, and it can leave anyone vulnerable to "cyber flashing," or as some tech experts say, susceptible to much worse.

"There are bad people out there who will take advantage of this."

Tech Guru Dave Hatter said all it takes is for one "creep" or person with bad intentions to spoil a good thing by cyber flashing their private parts.

Hatter said it can happen when you least expect it; on a crowded bus, plane, or at the local mall. 

"It would never occur to me," Hatter said, "that someone would say hmm, I think I'll take an inappropriate picture of myself, and just randomly fire it off to anyone's phone that I can find, within the general vicinity."

We asked Melissa Collins, a busy mom, to sit on a bench inside a mall, to show her how simple it is for her, or her kids, to get "cyber flashed."

We checked the AirDrop menu on her phone. In the menu, you can activate or deactivate the AirDrop setting.

There are three options to choose from once you turn on AirDrop: receiving off, contacts only or everyone. If it's set to everyone, anybody within a 30-ft radius can drop anything in your phone.

It was as easy as selecting an image, clicking AirDrop, waiting for Melissa's iPhone to show up in range, hit send and boom - It happens that fast.

"I use a Mac for work and other people in my office also use a Mac," Collins said, "so they can AirDrop documents to me, to share documents."
Faster, Collins said, than trying to email and copy everyone with attachments. The entire office can get those documents in seconds.

We asked, "when you're done sharing at work, do you change your settings?"

"No," she said.

Hatter said that could leave her open to unwanted images - or worse - being AirDropped into her phone. 

"Something like a virus, malware, keystroke logger, or something that could do you and your family some serious harm because it steals your information, steals your identity, wipes your bank account out, or who knows what else."

"That, in my mind," Hatter said, "is the real risk."

And Hatter said there's no easy way to identify who that sender is, but it can be done.

"It's like so many things on the internet," he said. "You're anonymous, but only to a certain degree. Everything you do is leaving tracks, and you really have to know what you're doing to cover those tracks."

"It's very scary," Collins said.  "I have a 13-year-old son, he turned 13 in May and got a phone in May."

Collins said she has seen AirDrop used though; only to stop unruly moviegoers.

"One of my friends was at a movie and someone down the aisle from her was on the phone, and got AirDropped from someone else there in the theater, that said, you know, had a picture of her on her phone, so they knew she was on her phone and they wanted her to get off. She was disrupting the movie. Yes."

Tech experts also say not only do cyber flashers rarely get prosecuted… but police departments across the country often have little to no staff dealing specifically with cyber crimes.

The danger isn't just only for iPhone users. Android devices allow you to share files using Bluetooth, but there are several steps you have to take to make even that happen and both parties have to agree to connect.

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