iPhone settings alert after woman receives explicit image

Owners of iPhones and parents of children who have them have been urged to check the settings of a feature on the device which could mean they receive unsolicited explicit images.

Earlier this week, it emerged a woman in London travelling on a train received an image of a man’s genitalia on her phone. The person responsible had to have been in close proximity because the image had been sent using AirDrop.

That feature is built into the iOS and Mac OS X operating systems to transfer files between Macs, iPhones, and iPads. It uses Bluetooth to create a short-range wifi network between devices. It is used by people to share pictures and documents between phones. However, it can potentially be exploited by anyone nearby to send inappropriate material.

The victim on the London train, who had AirDrop switched on to earlier send photographs to another iPhone user, said she felt violated and it was a “very unpleasant thing to have forced upon her screen”.

“I was also worried about who else might have been a recipient, it might have been a child, someone more vulnerable than me,” she told the BBC. “My name on AirDrop says Lorraine so they knew they were sending it to a woman. The images were of a sexual nature and it was distressing.”

Internet security firm ESET-Ireland said technology has “given sexual exhibitionists a new avenue for their perverted desires”.

It pointed out in its blog that, while it is unpleasant to receive an indecent image out-of-the-blue on the phone and not know who sent it from close-by, “the issue becomes even more disturbing when you consider that it might be your child or another vulnerable person who is using the receiving iPhone at the time”.

ESET said that, with AirDrop enabled, previews of images sent to a phone will always be displayed and so, even if the owner declines the file transfer, a thumbnail of the image will still be seen.

Mark James, ESET’s security specialist, said: “AirDrop is not turned on by default, but it’s easy to set AirDrop to receive from ‘Everyone’, and then forget all about it,” he said.

“The real blame here lies with those who are sending the dirty pictures. To block receiving files from complete strangers, iPhone users would be wise to change their AirDrop settings to receive from no one or just those people listed in the contacts list.”

ESET suggested that if incident such as the one which affected the lady on the London train become more common, pressure might be put on Apple to warn users of the dangers of accepting files from strangers via AirDrop, and also that it should not offer auto-preview of pictures until a user has confirmed that they are prepared to view them.


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