Can a stranger discover your location over the internet?

Elroy wants to know if it is possible for strangers to track down his address online.

Q. Elroy
I was involved ina rather heated discussion with an anti-vaxxer online recently when the person threatened to track me down from my wifi router, pay me a visit and breathe in my face. I was pretty disturbed and immediately stopped engaging with this person, who was clearly unhinged. Is it possible for a stranger to track down your location in this way?

A. Firstly, let me say that that behaviour is inappropriate and you should report the person to the website administrator for action to be taken.

Secondly, it isn’t supposed to be possible for your location to be visible to nefarious actors.

However, at a recent information security conference in Las Vegas, two researchers revealed that many routers ‘leak’ their hardware ID numbers through their internet protocol (IP) addresses.

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Technology site Tom’s Guide reports that the researchers then explained how that information could be connected to maps that show the street locations of wifi networks.

“A large number of routers in the wild use legacy IPv6 addressing that permits the recipient to very precisely locate that router physically,” explained researchers Rob Beverly and Erik Rye when presenting at the security conference in August.

“We were able to precisely geolocate about 12 million residential routers.”

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By analysing the network traffic to and from those routers, Dr Beverly and Mr Rye found they could also roughly locate other home routers that simply used the same ISPs as routers whose hardware IDs were exposed online.

“Simply living near [these exposed] routers is a privacy threat,” the researchers said.

Are you at risk?
Tom’s Guide says this is not an issue for anyone who has a router that is separate from their modem (the device the cable or phone line connects to).

However, if you have a home gateway (where your modem and router are combined) then you could be at risk, and you may need to disable IPv6.

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If you bought your own modem and router set-up, you will need to refer to the instruction manual for how to disable this setting.

If your internet service provider (ISP) sent you your modem and router, you may be able to contact them directly for assistance with disabling IPv6.

If the representative from your ISP doesn’t understand your request, Tom’s Guide suggests asking to speak to a technician.

Are you worried that strangers might be able to determine your location over the internet? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Ben



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