UK police investigates ‘cyber flashing’ incident

When you think about cybercrime, you typically think about hacking or data theft, but police in the UK are currently investigating a whole different kind of cybercrime – an incident believed to be the first ever instance of cyber-flashing.

According to BBC News reports, 34-year-old Lorraine Crighton-Smith said that she had been traveling on a train in south London when she began receiving pictures of an unidentified man’s penis on her iPhone through Apple’s “Airdrop” sharing function, which she had previously turned on in order to share photos with a fellow smartphone user.

Once she declined that image, a second one showed up on Crighton-Smith’s smartphone. “ I realized someone nearby must be sending them, and that concerned me. I felt violated, it was a very unpleasant thing to have forced upon my screen. My name on Airdrop says Lorraine so they knew they were sending it to a woman,” she said to the BBC.

“The images were of a sexual nature and it was distressing,” she said, adding that she reported the incident to British Transport Police (BTP) because she was “worried about who else might have been a recipient. It might have been a child, someone more vulnerable than me.”

How to keep this from happening to you

BTP officials told BBC News that they have investigated the incident, but since the photo was not accepted by Crighton-Smith, there was no evidence for them to work with. Superintendent Gill Murray said that the agency had previously dealt with cases involving Bluetooth, but said that a case involving indecent exposure via Airdrop was “new to us.”

She said that receiving such an image from a stranger “must be very distressing and something we would take very seriously. If it happens to you, our advice would be to remain calm, retain the image and report the matter to police as soon as possible. We have a dedicated Cyber Crime Unit who can analyze mobile phones and track data transfers back to suspects’ devices.”

Airdrop, a service unique to Apple’s iOS and Mac devices, uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology to communicate with other iPhones over short distances. By default, it is set to “contacts only” so that only people that a phone’s owner knows can use it to send and receive files to that particular mobile device. However, the settings can be changed to “everyone,” BBC News said.

“This means that typically in a train carriage, or tube carriage, you can see other devices,” said Pentest Partners cybersecurity consultant Ken Munro. “That’s what’s happened in this particular case, someone has enabled everyone and then hasn’t then set it back. As a result anyone within Wi-Fi or Bluetooth range can send something to you that’s quite horrible.”


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