One of this year's must-have gadgets for music-crazy runners is a security nightmare that could help someone track your movements with relative ease, according to researchers at the University of Washington.
The Nike + iPod device transmits data from a gizmo in a runner's shoe to an iPod, where software crunches the numbers to come up with information such as how far someone has run, and how fast, in real time. But the researchers have found that it could well be broadcasting that data to others too.
"A bad person could use this information to compromise your personal privacy and safety. We describe specific example scenarios, like stalking, in our paper," said a statement from researchers Scott Saponas, Jonathan Lester, Carl Hartung and Tadayoshi Kohno of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.
The gadget in the runner's shoe contains a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip which sends the data to a receiver connected to the iPod. The information itself is encrypted, but enough information is broadcast to a range of up to 60 feet to pose a security risk.
"When you walk or run the Nike + iPod sensor in your shoe will transmit messages using a wireless radio," said the researchers. "These messages contain a unique identifier that can be detected from 60 feet away. This information is potentially private because it can reveal where you are, even when you'd prefer for a bad person to not know your location."
They found that small computer equipment could be used to read the unique identifier. Some of this was small enough to hide in the user's environment. Placed on that person's front door or in bushes beside the entrance the machine could be used to read and record every time the shoe gadget passed it by.
That could allow a person using the tracking equipment to log when the user was home and when he was out of the house. This could be vital information for burglars.
If a person built a network of these sensors they could map the movements of a person or any number of people through a whole area, and could plot that movement on online mapping services such as Google Maps.
The researchers said that building a surveillance network would be "neither hard nor expensive". "Our prototype shows that a bad person could build a full-featured, WiFi-enabled Nike + iPod surveillance device for under $250," they said.