Entries Tagged "tracking"

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U.S. Post Office to Enable Wholesale Surveillance of Mail

The post office is launching a new barcode on first class mail that will enable the sender to track mail through the system:

With the new bar code, companies will be able to track mail delivery and know when their customers got a bill, solicitation or product, and the Postal Service will have another way of checking that mail is being delivered on time.

Companies also will be given a chance to buy data collected by the post office that will give them insights into how customers respond to advertising and marketing. A company, for instance, can buy a television or newspaper ad to tout a new product, follow up with an announcement in the mail and get a sense of how well the ad is connecting with customers.

So now the government will have a database of who sends mail to whom. Of course, there’s no discussion of this in the news article.

ETA: The plan only applies to commercial mail, like ad mailers and magazines, not to letters that individual people send each other.

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 6:26 AMView Comments

Identification Technology in Personal-Use Tasers

Taser — yep, that’s the company’s name as well as the product’s name — is now selling a personal-use version of their product. It’s called the Taser C2, and it has an interesting embedded identification technology. Whenever the weapon is fired, it also sprays some serial-number bar-coded confetti, so a firing can be traced to a weapon and — presumably — the owner.

Anti-Felon Identification (AFID)

A system to deter misuse through enhanced accountability, AFID includes bar-coded serialization of each cartridge and disperses confetti-like ID tags upon activation.

Posted on August 22, 2007 at 6:57 AMView Comments

New Harry Potter Book Leaked on BitTorrent

It’s online: digital photographs of every page are available on BitTorrent.

I’ve been fielding press calls on this, mostly from reporters asking me what the publisher could have done differently. Honestly, I don’t think it was possible to keep the book under wraps. There are millions of copies of the book headed to all four corners of the globe. There are simply too many people who must be trusted in order for the security to hold. And all it takes is one untrustworthy person — one truck driver, one bookstore owner, one warehouse worker — to leak the book.

But conversely, I don’t think the publishers should care. Anyone fan-crazed enough to read digital photographs of the pages a few days before the real copy comes out is also someone who is going to buy a real copy. And anyone who will read the digital photographs instead of the real book would have borrowed a copy from a friend. My guess is that the publishers will lose zero sales, and that the pre-release will simply increase the press frenzy.

I’m kind of amazed the book hadn’t leaked sooner.

And, of course, it is inevitable that we’ll get ASCII copies of the book post-publication, for all of you who want to read it on your PDA.

EDITED TO ADD (7/18): I was interviewed for “Future Tense” on this story.

EDITED TO ADD (7/20): This article outlines some of the security measures the publisher took with the manuscript.

EDITED TO ADD (7/25): The camera has a unique serial number embedded in each of the digital photos which might be used to track the author. Just another example of how we leave electronic footprints everywhere we go.

EDITED TO ADD (8/15): Here is a much more comprehensive analysis of who the leaker is:

  • The photographer is Caucasian.
  • The photographer is probably not married (no wedding ring on left hand).
  • The photographer is likely male. In the first few photos, the ring finger appears to be longer than the index finger. This is called the 2D:4D ratio and a lower ratio is symptomatic a high level of testosterone, suggesting a male. However, there is no clear shot of the fingers layed out, so this is not conclusive.
  • Although cameras are usually designed for right-handed use, the photographer uses his left hand to pin down the book. This suggests that the photographer is right handed. (I’ve seen southpaws try to do this sort of thing, and they usually hold the camera in an odd way with their left hand.) However, this too is not conclusive.
  • The photographer’s hand looks young — possibly a teenager or young adult.

Much, much more in the link.

Posted on July 17, 2007 at 4:38 PMView Comments

RFID Tattoos

Great idea for livestock. Dumb idea for soldiers:

The ink also could be used to track and rescue soldiers, Pydynowski said.

“It could help identify friends or foes, prevent friendly fire, and help save soldiers’ lives,” he said. “It’s a very scary proposition when you’re dealing with humans, but with military personnel, we’re talking about saving soldiers’ lives and it may be something worthwhile.”

Posted on January 22, 2007 at 12:27 PMView Comments

Radio Transmitters Found in Canadian Coins

Radio transmitters have been found in Canadian coins:

Canadian coins containing tiny transmitters have mysteriously turned up in the pockets of at least three American contractors who visited Canada, says a branch of the U.S. Defense Department.

Security experts believe the miniature devices could be used to track the movements of defence industry personnel dealing in sensitive military technology.

Sounds implausible, really. There are far easier ways to track someone than to give him something he’s going to give away the next time he buys a cup of coffee. Like, maybe, by his cell phone.

And then we have this:

A report that some Canadian coins have been compromised by secretly embedded spy transmitters is overblown, according to a U.S. official familiar with the case.

“There is no story there,” the official, who asked not to be named, told The Globe and Mail.

He said that while some odd-looking Canadian coins briefly triggered suspicions in the United States, he said that the fears proved groundless: “We have no evidence to indicate anything connected with these coins poses a risk or danger.”

Take your pick. Either the original story was overblown, or those involved are trying to spin the news to cover their tracks. We definitely don’t have very many facts here.

EDITED TO ADD (1/18): The U.S. retracts the story.

Posted on January 11, 2007 at 12:07 PMView Comments

Tracking Automobiles Through their Tires

Automobile tires are now being outfitted with RFID transmitters:

Schrader Bridgeport is the market leader in direct Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems. Direct TPMS use pressure sensors inside each tire to transmit data to a dashboard display alerting drivers to tire pressure problems.

I’ll bet anything you can track cars with them, just as you can track some joggers by their sneakers.

As I said before, the people who are designing these systems are putting “zero thought into security and privacy issues. Unless we enact some sort of broad law requiring companies to add security into these sorts of systems, companies will continue to produce devices that erode our privacy through new technologies. Not on purpose, not because they’re evil — just because it’s easier to ignore the externality than to worry about it.”

Posted on December 27, 2006 at 7:44 AMView Comments

Tracking People by their Sneakers

Researchers at the University of Washington have demonstrated a surveillance system that automatically tracks people through the Nike+iPod Sport Kit. Basically, the kit contains a transmitter that you stick in your sneakers and a receiver you attach to your iPod. This allows you to track things like time, distance, pace, and calories burned. Pretty clever.

However, it turns out that the transmitter in your sneaker can be read up to 60 feet away. And because it broadcasts a unique ID, you can be tracked by it. In the demonstration, the researchers built a surveillance device (at a cost of about $250) and interfaced their surveillance system with Google Maps. Details are in the paper. Very scary.

This is a great demonstration for anyone who is skeptical that RFID chips can be used to track people. It’s a good example because the chips have no personal identifying information, yet can still be used to track people. As long as the chips have unique IDs, those IDs can be used for surveillance.

To me, the real significance of this work is how easy it was. The people who designed the Nike/iPod system put zero thought into security and privacy issues. Unless we enact some sort of broad law requiring companies to add security into these sorts of systems, companies will continue to produce devices that erode our privacy through new technologies. Not on purpose, not because they’re evil — just because it’s easier to ignore the externality than to worry about it.

Posted on December 12, 2006 at 1:11 PMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.