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Cyber Security Tracking: People opening up trouble on social media

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two young ladies in downtown Memphis this week epitomize social media exposure. As they are visiting Memphis, they are snapping all kinds of pictures to post instantly.

"Mostly on Snapchat or Instagram," one of them tells us.

But those posts also let the world know your location, activity and, if you post frequently, your patterns.

"That's why you have to be careful who you are friends with. I guess it really doesn't matter since anybody can see your post once it's out there," one of the women says.

Dipankar Dasgupta says you may be putting out more information that you realize. He is the cyber security project coordinator at the University of Memphis.

"One of the heavily used information in a mobile device is a geolocation. Where you are, what activities you are doing," says Dasgupta.

While you may be targeting your friends and followers with your post, you can also be opening yourself up to anyone who trolls the internet.

We put it to the test with our WREG co-worker.

Reporter Shay Arthur is all over Memphis covering stories, and she is also all over social media. She agreed to let us see if we can track her just by what she puts out there.

It didn't take long.

We waited for a post during the height of Shay's busy day. And it came: a nice photo of Shay busy at work. She posted, "Welcome to our office-computers, notebook, phones and coffee."

My photographer, Ramon Johnson, thinks he has figured it out. We head out to find Shay, and in 10 minutes, we are in Cooper Young where they are parked.

Shay and her photographer don't even notice us.

"Hi Shay!"

"Hello April. What's going on? "

They don't notice us until we are right next to them.

"What are you doing here?" Shay asks.

"Are you surprised to see us?"

"Yeah. How did you know I was here?"

Here's how: Her post was innocent enough, but look closer, in the background. Outside the vehicle is a location marker. An easy zoom-in can give you an idea of where they might be, near a restaurant in Cooper Young.

Just like that, we were able to find out.

Anyone else who is observant and a little familiar with Memphis could too.

"I posted something on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter," says Shay. "No. I didn't say where I was. How did you find it? I didn't say where I was."

It's why cyber security experts warn against using identifying markers in your posts or tweets and posting real-time instead.

"Wanting to share. It's a nice day, wanting to share what I was doing. Low and behold you found me. I am glad it's you that found me," says Shay.

Even pictures you take can have geo-tracking features embedded, allowing someone to see exactly where the picture was taken, for example your home, and then find the address.

But it's not just what you put out there. Apps you download are loaded with information.

"All of this information, while useful for friends and family, it can be abused by others for various purpose," says Dasgupta.

Don't assume your phone is so secure. A determined person can easily find a program to map where you are via phone; turning on phone location features opens you up and shows where you are in real time.

Another thing to consider, that free WiFi you use may not be so free after all. It's pretty easy for someone to set up a WiFi that you tap into and open up a world of trouble.

"Always be careful when using WiFi when communicating or using secure sites like banks or any other that can get compromised," says Dasgupta.

The possible threats are endless, but some easy steps can minimize your exposure:

  1. Go to privacy on your phone and turn off location.
  2. When taking pictures you plan to post, turn off geo-tagging
  3. Post after you leave a location and avoid saying where you are in real time.
  4. Also, avoid using identifying markers in whatever you post.

"Anything you might not want everybody to see, you gotta kinda think about it before you post," says Matthew Greear, a senior at the University of Memphis.

A few steps to protect you in a social media world that's all about exposure.

The cyber security program at the University of Memphis is offering a free online mobile device security course this summer. It will be open to the public.