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Researchers expose privacy flaws in Chatroulette

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Privacy shortcomings in Chatroulette expose users to security risks, according to a study by security researchers.

Boffins at the University of Colorado at Boulder and McGill University were able to show that a pre-recorded low-quality video of an attractive woman could fool the majority of participants into thinking the feed was live. The approach might be used as a prelude to phishing attacks, for example. The researchers also found it was possible to use an IP-mapping services to get a general location on another participant. A variety of man-in-the middle attacks, where hackers intercept and potentially manipulate the data stream between two participants, might also be possible.

The upshot of the research is the users of the video chat site may not be as anonymous as they would like to believe.

Chatroulette.com pairs random strangers for webcam-based conversations and IM chat. Either user can move on to the next randomly chosen participant. Women participants are comparatively rare and users are likely to quickly encounter naked young males knocking one off, a phenomenon lampooned on shows such as South Park.

It's not clear whether or not the serious, academic researchers were exposed to smut during their study. Andrey Ternovskiy, the Russian software developer who created Chatroulette, welcomed the research while downplaying its potential impact.

Ternovskiy told IT World that upcoming changes in the site, such as localised chat, will minimise the potential for phishing attacks, which typically rely on conning people about an attackers' location as well as identity. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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