Fugitive John McAfee's location revealed by photo meta-data screw-up

Filed Under: Featured, iOS, Law & order, Mobile

John McAfeeDo you understand the dangers of having geo-tagging enabled in photographs you take on your iPhone? The latest development in the ongoing media circus around John McAfee has highlighted the issue once more.

Like many others I've been following the bizarre story of John McAfee, who has been on the run from the Belize police since mid-November.

John McAfee, of course, founded the anti-virus company McAfee. And the authorities in Belize have named John McAfee as a "person of interest" after one of his neighbours was found shot dead.

Now, it's important to underline that John McAfee, a pioneer in the anti-virus industry, has had nothing to do with the business since the 1990s.

One thing John McAfee remains, however, is a character.

He appears to have recently taken delight in keeping the world informed by blogging about his escapades, conducting media interviews, and even describing how he has disguised himself as a Guatemalan trinket peddler to evade capture.

This has no doubt frustrated the crime authorities in Belize, but all along I have wondered if John McAfee's taunting of those who are hoping to question him might be his undoing.

Twitter user @simplenomad noticed that a picture published today by Vice Magazine, contained some information that John McAfee might have preferred remained secret.

Sure enough, the image of John McAfee with Vice's editor-in-chief Rocco Castoro contains EXIF data that reveals, amongst other things, the GPS latitude and longitude co-ordinates of where it was taken.

Photo of John McAfee

Presumably whoever took the photo on their iPhone 4S had forgotten to turn off location services.

exif-data

Those co-ordinates suggest that John McAfee was photographed in Guatemala, having crossed the Belize border.

Google Maps of John McAfee's location

Of course, John McAfee is a "person of interest" in a police investigation, and has not been officially accused of any crime.

But it would be ironic indeed if John McAfee, a man who was a leading light in the anti-virus industry 20-25 years ago, was located by the authorities because of sloppy IT security. The lesson that all of us should learn is to be very careful about what information a photograph might be secretly carrying within it regarding the when and where a picture was taken.

This wasn't an easy article to write, as it involves someone who - although I never met him - I feel was an important element in the early years of my career in computer security.

Just as I was about to post this article, I saw that in his latest blog post John McAfee claims he faked the EXIF data in the photograph to create a "fake emergency".

That sounds questionable to me. But in the strange ongoing story of John McAfee, it's becoming increasingly hard to know what to believe.

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17 Responses to Fugitive John McAfee's location revealed by photo meta-data screw-up

  1. And here I thought the lesson was, don't murder your neighbor and go on the run from the police while taunting them through the use of remote communications technologies thereby sparking an international manhunt.

    • Derek · 655 days ago

      Now now, don't be silly.

    • Larry Bennett · 437 days ago

      It is now July 9, 2i013. So where in the world is John McAfee and why is he not in custody? Did he buy his freedom or what. Is escape and capture that difficult in the computer age?

  2. Andy H. · 655 days ago

    Very easy to modify EXIF data. Plenty of tools available

  3. how does one say "ooops, shit" in Guatemalen?

    • Mike · 654 days ago

      By first teaching yourself a bit of culture to learn that "Guatemalen" isn't even a word, and that the official language is Spanish.

      Here, check this entry on the, barely known, encyclopedia called Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guatemala

      Have a nice day

  4. Bunbun · 655 days ago

    Ignoring the fact that he didn't photograph himself and didn't upload the photo..
    well done..lol

  5. mittfh · 654 days ago

    As Graham says, it's best to treat John McAfee as innocent until proven guilty, but even assuming he didn't have anything directly to do with the death of his neighbour, his escapades suggest either there's something he's trying to hide from the Belize police, or he thinks they won't treat him fairly. Only time will tell - no doubt we'll find out more (eventually)...

  6. Blake · 654 days ago

    Maybe the Belize police should track sales of Just-for-Men instead :)

  7. John · 654 days ago

    It looks like a cardboard cut-out of the guy anyway. Notice how much clearer the other fellow in the photo is... Maybe John McAfee is really the most interesting man in the world.

  8. Dayvos · 654 days ago

    Was it faked - new update on his blog:

    "Vice Magazine reporters are indeed with me in Guatemala. Yesterday was chaotic due to the accidental release of my exact co-ordinates by an unseasoned technician at Vice headquarters. We made it to safety in spite of this handicap. I had to cancel numerous interviews with the press yesterday because of this and I apologize to all of those affected."

  9. Cliff Jones · 654 days ago

    I'd alter the location myself, to throw the dogs off the trail. Good move to make it over the border, in Guatemala. It vastly expands the scope of the hunt, and forces authorities to send no doubt thin resources to the border. (you'd know where they are)

    And who knows, he could be on the other side of the country, or even in a different country altogether, like Mexico.

    That is if A) you believe a word JM says and B) he is actually intelligent. My jury is still out on both scores.

    Even if he did drop the ball, it's still smart to say he faked the data... it injects a LOT of uncertainty. Is he lying? Is he actually where the EXIF says he is, but says he faked it because he knew authorities would assume he's lying??

    He does make it fun. Much better than Farewell Trelaine chasing Captain Kirk around a cheap set.

  10. Tom Updegrove · 654 days ago

    Ever condider that the EXIF info was spoofed.. Standard MO for a person who uses disguises.

  11. dave smith · 654 days ago

    and whats with the pen! FAKE! lol someone has a big head too!

  12. Looks fake. Was he writing and smoking at the same time with the same hand? Also easy to fake gps details. Probably he is in Texas.

  13. Either real or fake, neither would surprise me in this case.

  14. May be he is tracked by GPS.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.