Cyber flashing: iPhone feature could make you, your children vulnerable to lewd pictures

Cyber flashing: iPhone feature could make you, your children vulnerable to lewd pictures
It's the modern-day version of the old man in a raincoat exposing himself. And you and your children could be at risk. (Source: KSLA News 12)
It's the modern-day version of the old man in a raincoat exposing himself. And you and your children could be at risk. (Source: KSLA News 12)

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - One luxury of living in the current age of technology is easily communicating with others, using our smartphones and wireless connectivity.

But it turns out, that convenience could leave you and your children exposed to unwanted, lewd activity if you're not completely familiar with your phone's features.

The problem is cyber flashing.

That essentially is the 21st-century version of the old man opening his raincoat and exposing himself in public.

In today's version, however, there is a feature on the popular iPhone that could put users at risk of getting flashed in public spaces.

It's called AirDrop, Apple's file-sharing system, which is easily turned on, sometimes accidentally, by swiping up from the bottom of the iPhone screen, then touching the AirDrop button.

The feature is supposed to make it easy to instantly share photos, documents and other information with co-workers, relatives and friends.

But starting a couple of years ago in London and now in several cities throughout the United States, people report getting lewd photographs and messages over AirDrop and having no idea where and from whom they came.

"There are bad people out there who will take advantage of this," KSLA technology expert Dave Hatter said.

In fact, he explained, someone could be standing right next to you, send an explicit image and you would have little to no idea who that person was.

"It would never occur to me that someone would say, 'I think I'll take an inappropriate picture of myself and just randomly fire it off to anyone's phone that I can find within the general vicinity,'" Hatter said.

But it is happening more and more on airplanes and buses, at crowded parks and in shopping malls.

If it hasn't happened in the ArkLaTex, Hatter warned, it easily could if iPhone users and parents aren't careful.

When AirDrop is on, users can set their iPhone to receive files from trusted contacts only, or from everyone.

If it's set to everyone, anybody within a 30-foot radius can drop anything on your phone.

"I never even thought of that," said Casey Shelton, a local mom who was nervous about getting her eighth-grade daughter a smartphone.

"At first, I said no social media at all. After a year, I went ahead and let her get Instagram. And then we let her do Snapchat

"But I have the passwords to those accounts."

Some parents are unaware AirDrop exists, let alone have any idea whether the feature on their iPhone or their children's devices was turned on.

"The possibility of you getting something potentially much worse than an anonymous picture of someone's genitalia, something like a virus, malware, keystroke logger or something that could do you and your family some serious harm because it steals your information, steals your identity, wipes your bank account out or who knows what else," Hatter said.

"That, in my mind, is the real risk."

Hatter's advice is to turn AirDrop off unless you are using it.

And if a strange pop-up appears on your iPhone offering to share a file, decline.

KSLA Investigates enlisted the assistance of a teenager, Jenna, who went with us to Louisiana Boardwalk in Bossier City to find out how easily she could be exposed to this kind of material.

From 30 feet away, our iPhone detected hers and showed that AirDrop was on.

When we sent a picture of an emoji, Jenna received it in a matter of seconds.

When then showed the feature to Shelton at her home, while sitting down with her daughter.

She too was shocked by how easily the feature works and thankful KSLA Investigates pointed out the risk.

One reason parents need to be aware of this kind of petty cyber crime is the fact that it rarely gets the attention it needs.

Police departments simply are overwhelmed with other types of crimes and often lack staff and resources to battle cyber crimes.

"They're not going to have someone come knocking at their door, simply because of the time and manpower it would take," said Hatter.

For that reason, he said, cyber flashers rarely get prosecuted.

"If you did this once or twice, periodically and you moved around? Chances are you wouldn't get caught simply because of the overhead it would take to track that down."

Android devices also can share files using Bluetooth. But there are several steps you have to take to allow that to happen.

Apple's latest version of iPhone operating system, iOS11, also makes it harder to accidentally turn AirDrop on and get "cyber flashed."

Hatter suggests that parents take the time to ensure their children's and their devices are running that new update to better protect themselves from unwanted files.

Copyright 2017 KSLA. All rights reserved.