Selfie safety: keeping your security picture perfect

Selfie safety: keeping your security picture perfect

Ignore the banner image of the man taking a likely ill-advised selfie in the front of his car for now, because there’s fresh trouble brewing in photo filter land.

If you’re going to take selfies – and let’s face it, you probably will – it seems the latest “don’t do it like this” involves not revealing your fingerprints when flashing a peace sign. The reason? Researchers in Japan have warned that this information could be swiped and put to bad use. Before you start to panic, the good news is that this isn’t something that can be done easily – the chance of grabbing a high resolution shot of some fingerprints in a random selfie is low and you’d still need access to the device making use of said biometrics (like a phone) for this to be of any use to an attacker.

Thing is, there’s a whole bunch of other potentially dangerous situations you should probably avoid when taking a #nofilter picture, and most of these are of way more concern than your fingerprints. Some of the below, you may have already considered – and a few may be new to you. A couple of these may not even really qualify as selfies, but they’re still bad ideas and it won’t hurt to keep them in mind. Behold, the list of #selfiedoom:

1. Easily identifiable imagery in your photo

It may be that you’re not comfortable revealing your location on Instagram or Facebook, which is fine. You’ve taken precautions. You’ve switched off all the geotagging and location features across your social networks, but then blew it by taking a picture in your kitchen with Big Ben waving at you from outside the window. Or maybe you have friends over and they’re busy sending geotagged tweets from your balcony about how cool your new place is. Local shop receipts with addresses sitting on the table? A reflection of a suitcase with your address on the tag?

All of these things can be solved in advance by taking a few precautions and hiding what you don’t want on display (or just closing the window).

You may also have to ban non co-operative friends from your house, but we can’t really help with that one.

2. Selfies with credit cards/plane tickets/bills/everything else

For whatever reason, pictures like these tend to be very popular on Twitter – there’s no end of ill advised credit card closeups and other personal information thrown up on a daily basis.

Bad people can do all sorts of things with this information and none of it tends to be particularly good for the individual waving the item around (say goodbye to $80,000 in 30 seconds or less).

3. Safety first

Spatial awareness is a wonderful thing, but all too often people forget about it at the worst possible moment in their quest to get the right shot. High up? Railings. Low down? Train tracks. Museum? Oh, no. Places you’re not supposed to be taking selfies in and you did and now everything has gone horribly wrong? You bet.

This is a very big problem, with extremely serious consequences for anybody not paying attention.

4. Malware selfies

This hasn’t really taken off, but there are Android Trojans out there which will ask a victim to take a selfie holding some form of personal identification. Ensure your mobile device is securely protected, don’t allow installs from unknown sources and always read the reviews for any new app on Google Play to minimize your chances of accidental infection.

One way or another, selfies are here to stay and will likely work their way into security solutions in the future. For now, think before you set up your perfect shot and have a safe, free from disaster selfie session.


Christopher Boyd


Christopher Boyd

Former Director of Research at FaceTime Security Labs. He has a very particular set of skills. Skills that make him a nightmare for threats like you.