Over the past 12 months, I have noticed an increase in the incidents of 'Cyber Flashing' here in Western Australia. An issue that has been around in the physical world for hundreds of years, has now found its way into the digital world.
Cyber Flashing is where a random person will send an offensive image (usually sexual) to an innocent and usually unknown victim, over the Apple AirDrop network. In my experience, the most common places it is occurring is on public transport or within shopping centres and food halls.
AirDrop is most commonly used to send or receive content with ease across a local environment (work or office) to a number of known recipients. It is a useful little tool that has been used effectively for a number of years by iOS users. Not only can you send to other users, but you can also AirDrop to printers and scanners etc. Wherever there is a large group of people, there is the likelihood of a greater number of users having their AirDrop settings set to ‘Everyone’. This allows that user to be seen within that local area via a bluetooth or WiFi connection. A ‘flasher’ can then scan the area and identify any number of users within a 20 metre range of their device. They can not only assume a potential victim may be close by, but if the victim has used their real name on their device, then the flasher can also know who they are.
It is very difficult to trace an AirDrop send, especially if the flasher has changed the name of their device immediately after they have sent an image (this is very common). A victim will view the image and see the name of the device that sent it. They may well then scan the area themselves to see where that device is located, but it is often too late as the flasher has already changed their device name.
Some schools in WA who are using AirDrop as a teaching aid have implemented a ‘No Name Changing’ policy in regard to their students IOS devices. If such incidents occur and a student has been seen to change their name, penalties are imposed. This is a great start in minimising this type of behaviour.
AirDrop should be set to ‘Contacts Only’. This will stop the ability for a user to be identified and for them to be flashed in this manner. If you are thinking of giving your child a new iPhone, then sitting down with them and going through the settings on their device in detail will help them understand the risks such environments can impose.
Check out my Youtube video on Cyber Flashing.