Thieves Stealing Your GPS Can Track You Back Home
by Tim Loehrke, USA Today
Tech-savvy thieves are doing more than just stealing GPS devices off the front seats of cars. They’re pushing the right buttons to use the devices to head right back to their owners’ homes, Gary Hoffman reports on AOL Autos. Thieves are also doing this with smart phones that have a GPS app on them.
Many GPS devices and smart phones have a common navigational feature called the home setting, fully automating the process of directing you to your home. Hoffman says its a convenience that burglars and stalkers are sure to appreciate, “turning your free-floating anxiety about data theft into full-blown paranoia about home invasion.”
“The possibilities seem endless. The units’ presence in vehicles such as a Lexus or a BMW, for example, could give thieves a clue to a much bigger haul at the owner’s home. And if they steal the garage door opener, too, they may be able to get inside the house with ease.
A couple years ago, thieves stole a number of Acura cars from a corporation’s garage in Atlanta, and, in three cases, they used the GPS units in the cars to find and then burglarize employees’ homes.”
And it wasn’t just in Atlanta:
“Two men were accused of a GPS-guided crime spree in Michigan and northern Ohio. They allegedly broke into vehicles parked at shopping centers, stole the units and then burglarized home after home. Police figure the same pair may have been responsible for burglaries in about 20 communities.
This “take me home” function works in reverse as well, helping police identify the owners of lost or stolen GPS devices. In November, police in New Jersey found a Garmin unit in a small cache of stolen goods. By setting the device to its home setting, they were able to identify the owner and return it.
But the bottom line is that, at least theoretically, some of your personal information could be available to anyone getting hold of your navigational device.
You’re probably more likely to be audited by the IRS or contract H1N1 than be a victim of burglars guided by GPS. Yet the risks “aren’t negligible” either, said Erhan Kartaltepe, associate director of the Institute for Cyber Security of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Your home address could join a large mass of information about you that is “out there,” available to the public or determined individuals.
Kartaltepe notes that data isn’t usually encrypted on consumer GPS devices. So if thieves break the locking combination — presuming the driver even bothered to lock it in the first place — they get access to a home address. The same thing can happen with the GPS app on your smarphone if it’s been lost or stolen.
“We encourage people to use common sense and take the same precautions that they would with any consumer electronics device,” said Jessica Myers, a spokeswoman for Olathe, Kan.-based Garmin International.
You can take your GPS unit with you or lock it in the trunk or glove compartment when you leave your car. You can also lock the unit down with an anchoring device.
One company, New York-based Pioneer Lock, has taken its experience with locking devices for desktop computers and has applied it to on-board GPS units. Its StarLock-GPS product hangs onto the unit with a heavy wire cable and a plate glued to it with high-strength adhesive. The lock can be easily released if you want to take the unit with you, said company owner Peter Parsekian.
If the GPS unit itself has a keyboard locking device, Myers recommends that people use it. Garmin has a feature similar to a keyboard lock on a cellphone, she said. “With the Garmin Lock, you either insert a specific password or drive to a specific location, which you have preset.” At that location, the unit unlocks and its owner can access its data and functions without additional effort.
Still, thieves may find it relatively easy to hack their way into a locked unit over several days.
The best course is to deter the theft in the first place, and the simplest solution is to take your GPS unit with you when you leave your car.