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Privacy Security Your Rights Online

Privacy Flaws In Chatroulette Expose Users 101

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the users-exposed-themselves-just-fine dept.
itwbennett writes "In a paper posted online this week, researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder and McGill University outline three different types of attacks that could be launched against Chatroulette users. While the new research doesn't expose any gaping privacy holes, it does show how the service could be misused by determined criminals. For example, the researchers were able to use IP-mapping services to get a general idea of users' location (a public Web site, called already does this). Then by searching Facebook using information obtained in chats and comparing pictures, researchers were able to identify chatters. 'Even in a city as big as Chicago, you can drill down and find the person you're actually talking to,' said Richard Han, an associate professor with the University of Colorado who co-authored the paper."
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Privacy Flaws In Chatroulette Expose Users

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:16PM (#32902210) Journal

    Privacy Flaws In Chatroulette Expose Users

    Trust me, on Chatroulette it's the users that have been exposing themselves.

    • by jmerlin (1010641) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:23PM (#32902342)
      This brings a whole new meaning to the word "gaping privacy holes."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Mr. Goatse hasn't been seen on /. in YEARS...

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        Yeah, if you expose them in public (and the Internet is in public) then the those are no longer your 'private', but instead they are your 'public' holes. There are quite a few.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        And if that wasn't enough, also staring at you; in anitcipation...

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hehe he said "drill down" hehe.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:59PM (#32902966)

      I was visiting a friend of mine in San Fran a few months ago. He got a new Apple laptop, so he was showing it to me. We tried out Chatroulette briefly, and the third session ended up being a close-up of some guy touching his penis. The first thing my friend wrote was "Jim, is that you? It's Freddy."

      My friend recognized the other guy by his penis. Turns out they knew each other from a gym they both went to, where they'd seen other naked in the showers. They both thought it was a really funny coincidence to meet on Chatroulette like that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by vxice (1690200)
      I'm guessing they cross reference the video of your genitals to the picture of your genitals on for a start on identifying person.
      • by maxume (22995)

        As if any of the pics on adult friend finder are real.

        • by spazdor (902907)

          As if there are any women on that site at all except for the ones whose photos they paid to use.

    • by Xyrus (755017)

      In other news, ChatRoulette is looking for a new name. Some of the top contenders are:




      Goatse and Tubgirl are also falling from fame as lolcatz and trolls everywhere now just link to ChatRoulette. More after we come back from commercial.

    • Exactly... In true FTFY form:

      Even in a city as big as Chicago, you can drill down and find the penis you're actually looking at

  • by Bryansix (761547) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:19PM (#32902268) Homepage
    For one simple reason. Facebook does not let you set your profile picture to a shot of your genitals.
  • So the security flaw is that by asking someone for personal information you can obtain personal information about them? This is called social engineering (or maybe just talking).

    Not sure what you'd do with this anyway, go meet that masturbator you saw online?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by socz (1057222)
      Why make it so complicated and give it a fancy name? Here's the summed up version: "ASL?" What else do I need to know?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Haffner (1349071)
      In another paper posted online this week from the University of Colorado at Boulder, my hand hurts when I poke it with something sharp.
    • by iamhassi (659463) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @01:00PM (#32902972) Journal
      "... researchers were able to use IP-mapping services to get a general idea of user's location... Chatroulette is now testing a new feature called Localroulette, which connects people from specific cities with one another."

      Congratulations researchers, you've discovered chatroulette's new features.

      Please tell me taxpayers didn't pay for this research :( "... researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder and McGill University ..."


      they weren't researching anything, network admin probably noticed IP logs of them spending all day on chatroulette [] and they had to come up with some excuse.

      *phone rings*
      Person answering: Hello?
      Admin: is this the research office of (BLANK)?
      "Researcher": Yes it is
      Admin: I'm the network admin for (insert "prestigious" university) and we've noticed someone in your office has spent the last 4 months on a website by the name of "chatroulette". Do you know anything about this?
      "Researcher": Um.... what's the website?
      Admin: Chatroulette
      "Researcher": ..... no, no doesn't ring a bell
      Admin: Well if you notice anyone please let us know. The website is known for inappropriate content (NSFW) [] and we'll be monitoring the PC logins of the individuals and alert campus security once we know who is visiting the website.
      "Researcher": OH Chatroulette! Oh yes I'm very familiar with that website, we're researching it
      Admin: Research?
      "Researcher": Yes research. We're... um, "probing" it's vulnerabilities, looking for "gaping holes" that "expose" users (chuckle)
      Admin: gaping holes?
      "Researcher": smiling Yes gaping holes... in security
      Admin: Oh i see... well thank you for letting me know, I'll note this in the logs
      "Researcher": You do that, have a good afternoon
      Admin: You too
  • by Saysys (976276) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:22PM (#32902328)
    "Chatroulette is a website that pairs random strangers from around the world together for webcam-based conversations. Visitors to the website randomly begin an online chat (video, audio and text) with another visitor. At any point, either user may leave the current chat by initiating another random connection. As of July 11 the site is offering an experimental "localized" version which pairs people by state". -wikipedia

    So 1.) people find each-other intentional and 2.) "using information obtained in chats" I can get you SSN... if you tell me.

    Literal nothing worthy of note in this research folks... move on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Actually, if you RTFS, it's more along the line of combining the IP address of the other party, and the picture to narrow down who/where.

      I think they are missing the bigger flaw here. Flash, or even worse, peer-to-peer flash...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Restil (31903)

        I can always sniff out the ip address of the host I'm communicating with, even if all of the data is encrypted. The only way to prevent that is to run all of the data (video, audio, and text) through a central server (or multiple central servers) or some type of proxy. The point is, someone is going to have to pay for a huge amount of bandwidth, as opposed to the way it works now where all the main server has to do is arrange the connections.


  • by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:26PM (#32902382) Homepage

    Has anyone ever used it and engaged in an interesting conversation with a person who became a regular point of contact? Or is it all just penises and overweight bald guys?

    • by nozzo (851371) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:34PM (#32902534) Homepage
      Yeah I did but all he wanted to talk about was penises and overweight bald guys so I stopped it.
    • Everyone on the 'net is either a dick or an overweight bald guy. Chatroulette just exposes this fact.

    • by Restil (31903)

      There's always Merton []. And Ben Folds imitating him. But otherwise, you're pretty spot-on.


    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Has anyone ever used it and engaged in an interesting conversation with a person who became a regular point of contact? Or is it all just penises and overweight bald guys?

      Who says it can't be both?

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        To be fair, I'm sure he didn't mean to imply that penises and overweight bald guys were mutually exclusive.

      • by Abstrackt (609015)

        Has anyone ever used it and engaged in an interesting conversation with a person who became a regular point of contact? Or is it all just penises and overweight bald guys?

        Who says it can't be both?

        Trying to start a genital origami club eh?

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No regular point of contact, but I have had interesting conversations with some people the 2-3 nights I tried it. It's also fun just to mess around telling bullshit. Just innocent, maybe PG-13 bullshit, nothing offensive or related to genitals. :)

      You've probably seen videos of that piano-singer guy on chatroulette. There are genuine, nice and fun people too on it. Well there used to be at least, it may have (and probably has) degenerated...

    • Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by axl917 (1542205) <> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @01:21PM (#32903328)

      I still talk to a girl in Sicily I ran into on roulette a few months ago. It is rare, but you can find normal people there.

    • I like to advertise my shirt designs. I'll set my camera on a printout with a design and a comment like "Put some clothes on. Get this shirt for $10" and let it sit all day. There is no way to put hyperlinks in, of course, so I just have the URL typed out on the sheet of paper.

    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      "If you want to find quality friends on chatroulette you have to wade through all the dicks first." - Cartman

    • by dr_dank (472072) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @01:52PM (#32903874) Homepage Journal

      It's penises all the way down.

    • by RJFerret (1279530)

      Hmm, who would look for a conversation on ChatRoulette? But I can attest it's not all penises and bald guys, there are also vaginas and bare girls (both recorded and live).

      It helps if you go on as a couple, or if you are female, as this guy found out: explanation video []

  • Um, OK. (Score:5, Funny)

    by pushing-robot (1037830) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:30PM (#32902452)

    Next article: Privacy flaws In Public Streaking Expose Users

  • Nothing New (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ziekheid (1427027) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @12:32PM (#32902506)

    At least 2 of the 3 things mentioned in the paper can be done on ANY cam site (blogtv, ustream, tinychat, etc).
    It's truly ridiculous to only mention Chatroulette here and I don't consider any of the things mentioned a real security flaw. 4chan has been "exploiting" these sites for years already, it's nothing new.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by socz (1057222)
      It's just like the evening news talking about closing down websites that help promote piracy. I always wondered: "why don't they talk about rapidshare, IRC and newsgroups?" Seriously, there's WAY better ways to obtain things than downloading from a website (ddl) or torrent (p2p).

      Maybe if we blew this up, we'd bring more attention (of regulators), but the masses would also be like ohhhhhhhhh!
  • by z-j-y (1056250)

    researchers in universities are seriously out of ideas of what to research

    • Re:researchers? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Rijnzael (1294596) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @02:05PM (#32904046)
      I'm actually a CU-Boulder student and had a class with Han last semester. He's a great prof and really cares about the students' understanding. I was surprised to see that he put out research on something so common-knowledge; "Oh once you have a picture of someone you can look for another picture that looks like it and you know you've found your target". He's more of an operating systems/networking kind of guy. This just seems like fluff research to keep the department chair happy while he actually does his teaching and "real" research. Academia has this tendency to prioritize quality over quantity, and I think this provides an example of the pressures even good profs feel from the top re: publishing.
      • He's more of an operating systems/networking kind of guy. This just seems like fluff research to keep the department chair happy while he actually does his teaching and "real" research. Academia has this tendency to prioritize quality over quantity, and I think this provides an example of the pressures even good profs feel from the top re: publishing.

        That's a very generous assessment. Obviously, I don't know the guy, but another possible hypothesis is that he's made the oft-repeated mistake of an expert outside his own field, who thinks he's also good enough to be an expert in another field. Academia is chock full of this -- having a good publishing record in one field tends to inflate one's ego, and can frequently lead to moronic research in even a closely related field.

        I'm thinking of you, "obesity spreads through a social network" guy, who is actu

  • I wasnt aware that enough people posted pictures of their genitalia on Facebook to make accurate comparisons with Chatroulette. I stand corrected.


  • Exposing your face and allowing it to be recorded can lead to your identification! Who knew?

    • by rwade (131726)

      Yeah, great point. I thought the point of Chatroulette was to engage people -- if you're engaging them and telling them things about you that can be used in searching for your profile on facebook, point is -- how is that a privacy flaw in Chatroulette? Chatroulette discloses three things:

      1) Your city

      2) What you look like

      3) What you say

      #1 is not enough on its own to identify you. #1 & #2 is not enough on its own to find your name on facebook. #3 is the smoking gun, apparently -- however, Chatro

  • All I did was /whois USERNAME and I got all their details. Another trick I use is google their name on Facebook. Or lookup FourSquare. :)
  • gaping privacy holes

    Why would that phrase ever be used when discussing Chatroulette.

  • Dupe? (Score:4, Informative)

    by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@h ... minus cat> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @01:04PM (#32903042)

    I thought this was the exact issue the U.S. miltary had when they had soldiers posting geotagged pictures to facebook which identified where they were in Afghanistan. Same idea - people, given a few small details, can very easily find out about you by the use of Google.

    Back when I was in first year university (1996) it was still pretty wild west on the internet. I was talking to a friend who I had never given any of my real details (name, address, etc) when she popped up and asked if I went to AMHS (my high school). After picking my jaw off the floor I found out that I had mistakenly forwarded them an E-mail which I had originally forwarded from my school account to my hotmail account. They found the e-mail address, and googled it. It was all laid out there on the Universities' website.

    • I believe the Facebook issue is fairly different. In that case, it's not Facebook doing the geotagging, it's fancy new cameras (often built in to smartphones) that tag the image file itself with the location, as best as the camera can determine it at the time. Facebook then just makes that metadata easily available.

      In this situation, it's the obvious problem of a peer-to-peer connection, namely that each peer knows the other's IP address, and from that you can start to narrow down a location, often fairly

      • I thought facebook stripped all metadata?

        When you upload a photo to facebook, it is heavily compressed into a few stock sizes. The focus on compression to speed things up and save bandwidth is probably at the point of removing the few bytes taken by even the most basic EXIF data...facebook photo can be flipped through incredibly quickly (due to optimization and preloading). I am sure they keep that data stored safely away somewhere (and may someday add the ability to view it), but it certainly isn't in

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Giving away your location by posting your GPS coordinates is slightly different than giving away your location by having someone analyze your IP and a picture of you.

    • Your story reminded me of an experience I had back around that same time period ('96 or '97), when ICQ was fairly new and I was in my last year of college.

      My sister spent a lot of time on ICQ and made a few friends. Apparently some guy on there used what little information she had shared with him (I don't know exactly what that was) and was able to put together enough information on her to figure out exactly where she lived. Soon after, he made some some thinly veiled threats to show up at her home and po

    • by enjar (249223)

      If someone Googled something in 1996 they would have access to time travel. Just sayin ...

  • Nothing mentioned in TFA is a flaw with Chatroulette, they're simply byproducts of this type of communication. If I printed a picture of myself and stapled it to a telephone pole someone could possibly identify me and try to scam me, too. Does this mean telephone poles have flaws?

  • I thought this was only made for some /b/tards and bored journalists.

  • by TheABomb (180342) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:14PM (#32905768)

    When you plug in a camera, sit down in front of said camera, and broadcast said camera to random strangers, the very notion of a "privacy flaw" becomes moot.

  • by BitterOak (537666) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:18PM (#32905824)
    Privacy flaws in Chatroulette? Based on what I've seen on Chatroulette, these are not people who care much about privacy!
  • in before a million comments about 'exposing' ...too late

  • Ummm, gee it's simple enough to get someone's facebook account. I generally do it by saying, "What's your facebook account?" How is this a security flaw?

  • IP can be used to track area.

    Social engineering can provide you with people's details.

    Film at eleven.
  • Someone notify CmdrTaco that kdawson got a hold of his password.

Real programmers don't write in BASIC. Actually, no programmers write in BASIC after reaching puberty.