Article Review by Kevin Homan

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    Citation: Templeman, Robert et al. “PlaceRaider: Virtual Theft in Physical Spaces with Smartphones.” arXiv 1209.5982 (2012)

    In the article ‘PlaceRaider: Virtual Theft in Physical Spaces with Smartphones’, the discussion that the authors, Templeman, Robert et al set about introducing us to is, the concept of the ‘opportunistic use’ of the smartphone camera and its facilitation to theft. The extraction of information from physical spaces by the use of smartphones and their increasingly powerful onboard sensor suites is rapidly growing and in certain aspects, growing unknowingly. The increased prevalence and pervasive nature of the smartphone in our daily lives definitely lends itself to the veracity of this theory.

    The basis of the discussion centers around the increasingly powerful onboard suites of sensors that make up the hardware of the modern smartphone. Malware, which had traditionally been targeting phones, may have centered around the software installed on the device itself or the ability to increase the hostility and inefficiency of the device by ‘listening’ to spoken word or recording the ability to ‘feel’ through the keystroke vibrations of the accelerometer. With the ever increasing hardware specifications and capabilities of the modern smartphone, a new form of ‘Sensory Malware’ had developed, in particular ‘Visual Malware’. It is with these new forms of virtual threat that the authors argue that private, personal information could be stolen and retrieved, from a physical space through a virtual medium, without the attacker having had any prior knowledge of the physical space or environment whatsoever.

    Within their research, the team introduced a formulated piece of visual sensory Malware, which leaveraged the camera aspect of the smartphones hardware system, to be installed with their software application known as ‘PlaceRaider’. This concocted piece of Malware was inadvertently installed on the Users device whilst they accepted and agreed to the terms and permissions of the aforementioned application ‘PlaceRaider’. Considering that this is quite a common principle in the acceptance of application deployment on devices, this was not an unfeasible an act to consider. Algorithims were then employed to interact with the Users habits and potential usage of their smartphone to best utilise the trojan piece of software that had been deployed. This enabled the would be Attacker a reconnaisasance from distance, allaying the fear of suspiscion or capture, in turn increasing the ability for ‘Virtual Theft’. The software allowed the ability to create a rich 3D model of the Users environment through the mass production of photograhic imagery. These images were then compiled and sifted through to, not only model the Users space but also to steal a variety of information that could be deemed highly profitable for the Attacker.

    When the article was written in 2012, it centered around two studies in which the software could be deployed and used:

    1. As a powerful surveillance tool
    2. As a virtual theft platform

    These areas of study would still be of considerable warrant Today due to the ever increasing volume of images and video footage that appears online on a daily basis. The ever willingness of individuals to portray their lives online, points to a society wherby the camera and the exposure of self is at the center of our daily existence. The very point of the discussion is to open the area of imagery to the facilitation of theft. People within the confines of their own home or personal environment would be more willing to unknowingly aid in the softwares ability to depict the scene. The very nature of the application and its weak assumptions in implementation, while seem simple are yet extremely effective. The authors use of many reference materials and a variety of ways in which they have retrieved the data from source, point to a thorough investigative research process and the veracity of the argument stands up to the data provided. Time has elapsed since the original report, but even within current news mediums, articles appear to suggest the virtual theft sector is expanding and will grow immensely.

    A recent article ‘Boarding Pass’ (Condliffe, 2015) stated that a barcode image captured online and scanned with a barcode scanner could reveal, “Besides his name, frequent flyer number and other [personally identifiable information]……his record locator (a.k.a. “record key” for the Lufthansa flight he was taking that day…… then proceeded to Lufthansa’s website and using his last name (which was encoded in the barcode) and the record locator was able to get access to his entire account……see this one flight……see ANY future flights that were booked to his frequent flyer number from the Star Alliance.” The fact an image posted online could be used to potentially ‘case’ a subject in relation to theft can be seen as a further enhancement on the reports original study. In a sense, it could be argued that it removes the need to actually acquire the concocted software, but with the detailed findings that have been revealed, it could be argued that the application facilitates and enhances the need and justification for a software application such as ‘PlaceRaider’ to be of use to the would be thief.

    ‘Hack Attack’ (Lee, 2013) relates to the area of webcam intrusion, how to deal with it and the disadvantages of it. It leads to the thinking that with the constant transmission of the camera lens and audio equipment, the smartphones hardware would allow for a far superior level of undetection by any would be Attacker to the User and their environment, allowing far superior surveillance, recconnaissance and ultimately theft.

    Given the concept was written in recent times, it does go a long way in covering the main area of imagery and its use in building a three dimensional model to study and surveil. My thoughts after reading the article center around the explosion of live video footage that is passing through smartphones to an online environment these days. Although the article does briefly mention this area, with services such as Skype, FaceTime, Whatsapp, Snapchat, etc., facilitating this streaming of data on an ongoing basis, who is to say that this area of imagery and voice transmission would not prove to be an even more lucrative area of exploitation for theft and surveillance than that of the still image the study itself centers around? The pursuit for more ways in which we as a society communicate and conduct ourselves in personal and business life could prove more revealing and less secure than we have ever given serious thought to.

    Condliffe, J. (2015, July 10). Your Boarding Pass Barcode Can Reveal Your Future Flight Schedule. Retrieved October 29, 2015, from
    Lee, J. (2013, September 17). Hack Attack: How To Keep Your Webcam Secure From Online Peeping Toms. Retrieved October 27, 2015, from

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