Ok, you might not be searching for Mr. Right. Maybe just “Mr. Right Now”.
Regardless of who you’re looking for and the App or service you use (Tinder, Grindr, Okcupid, Happn, Match), it can’t be denied that with the increase of the number of active users on these databases the risk to security and to person has increased by a proportionate amount.
What am I talking about? Last month Desmon Clements from Atlanta was arrested and charged with robbery after using a dating app designed for gay people to lure a man in.
This is a genuine and serious threat and it is on the rise, not just through physical mediums but also through online targeted attacks and scamming attempts against those who are just looking for someone to form a connection with.
This article is focused around telling you the most common cons or threats you might experience through online dating and the best ways to avoid them.
Danger one: You’re not as anonymous as you think you are
Most of us try not reveal our true name or details (at least initially) on dating apps, using a “nom de plume” to guard us when we’re sending our texts and photos.
However, a lot of these dating apps link to your Facebook profile which has significantly more data about you.
With little effort most dating apps can be navigated to show your Facebook profile details and from there it’s a short hop to knowing most everything about you. In some cases it’s even worse and the app will publicly display personal details (even including your email address).
Danger two: The app can track you
If you’re dating on the go, you’re probably using your smart phone to do so and, of course, your app contains location services to tell you where you are on google or apple maps or similar.
If you allow location services to be accessed by the app then you’re essentially trusting the app with where you are at any given moment.
Does it deserve that trust? Usually not. The “Happn” app, for example, not only shows how far away you are from another person but how many times your paths have crossed, which makes it incredibly easy for someone to track you down, whether you want them to or not.
Danger three: The network data is not secure
In simply terms, whenever data is sent over the internet it should be encrypted (which is kind of like using a secret code which makes the data unreadable if it doesn’t know the key).
Now, with a normal web page you don’t worry too much, if you’re just loading www.attitude.co.uk you’re not in any great danger if someone is monitoring your connection.
But when you’re talking about two way messaging, being able to monitor (and in some cases even change) the content of a message can lead to danger.
They could redirect you to a different address, change a message into a demand for money or observe and profile you based on the photos that you’re looking at online. In some cases, even your location data and info about your phone can be hacked from these apps.
Off the back of this is an even more concerning problem. When you load data in a dating app it has to travel through several servers which are supposed to be checked against the security certificate for the service to make sure they’re legitimate.
In a recent test by Kaspersky they discovered that five out of the nine apps they tested did not perform this verification. This leaves the data open to being redirected through servers that can track and collect the data.
Danger four: The power of Veto
In most operating systems there’s a hidden level of privileges called a “Super User”.
This exists for testing by engineers and in case the OS needs to make a decision that can’t be overridden. On android devices most dating Applications were able to use these super user privileges to get secure information off the device.
Once super user access has been granted to these applications, it does not warn the user again so this could all be done in the background whilst the app was running.
So we know that these threats exist and than most app developers haven’t taken nearly enough precautions to protect your personal data.
What can you do to protect yourself?
1) Firstly, just be aware of these problems. Some of them can be overridden with a sensible level of precaution.
Rather than link your dating apps to your existing Facebook or Google Plus profiles, just create a throw away account with no data in it.
Or create a blank Facebook or Google Plus account and link to that. Be aware of who you’re sharing information to and do so only on a “need to know basis”. Don’t disclose your email address or access the app whilst on public wi-fi networks.
2) Secondly, consider investing in an additional network security layer, such as a VPN, has a list of reasonably priced options. A VPN provided encryption and security to all your network traffic which closes a lot of security holes left open in these apps.
Most of these VPN providers also allow usage across a smart phone and cellular data so you can protect all of your networks all of the time.
3) Thirdly, if you’ve got windows or android, look at your firewall and what it’s protecting.
Most firewall providers offer a mobile device version of their services now and often it’ll be under the same licence key so it doesn’t cost any extra.
This will at least monitor for intrusion attempts caused by holes in the apps security and provide you with a warning as well as let you know if any additional software is being back ground installed.
Dating and social media apps are a great thing and a fun way to meet new people or get into new social circles but, as with a blind date, you should always take precautions to make sure you’re going to be safe.