Augmented Reality Poses Host of Security Issues as Popularity Rises

From Pokemon Go to Microsoft's Hololens and Google Glass, augmented reality technology is rapidly developing, allowing users to interact with virtual objects in their real world, but experts worry about security issues.

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When a 20-year-old Pokémon Go player sought to capture a digital creature in a Creve Coeur, Mo., parking lot in the wee hours of July 10, he instead found himself robbed at gunpoint by two teenagers who used the app to set lures and track potential victims, according to police in O'Fallon, Mo.

The two teenagers and their suspected getaway driver were later caught, but the police issued a statement warning players of the augmented reality game to be careful of being lured to remote locations and tracked through the game's mechanics.

"The way we believe it was used is you can add a beacon to a PokeStop to lure more players," the police department stated on its Facebook page. "Apparently they were using the app to locate [people] standing around in the middle of a parking lot or whatever other location they were in."

Pokémon Go is the first runaway hit in the growing space of augmented reality applications, which promise to marry digital data and the real world to entertain and allow workers to be more productive.

The technology embedded into cars could give visual, audio and haptic feedback to drivers to warn them of dangerous situations or help them navigate. Games using virtual- and augmented-reality goggles, such as the crime mystery drama Fragments, can seemingly place content right in the player's world. And in the enterprise, employees using augmented reality can work in a space that combines digital content—such as prototypes and even virtual employees—and the real world.

The technology is expected to take off. Augmented reality is expected to account for a significant portion of the estimated $80 billion in revenue for the virtual- and augmented-reality market by 2025, according to Goldman Sachs' Global Investment Research group. Other estimates rise as high as $150 billion by 2020.

Yet, the emerging technology could bring significant dangers as well.

Because augmented reality allows online data into the user's reality, it also brings the threat of digital compromise. Cars that display directions on an AR-enabled windshield could be given the wrong direction or could obscure drivers' field of view by placing too much information on the device. Because the technology likely will be used to augment workers' knowledge in medical and industrial applications, manipulating the data could result in the wrong decisions and lead to injury.

For this reason, Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute included augmented reality as one of the up-and-coming technologies that could pose significant risks in the next 10 years.

"The fact is that a security breach would allow an attacker to change what you are seeing—admittedly, only what you are seeing through your smartphone or a Hololens or your smart glasses of the future, but that is kind of unique attack vector that can impact your physical space," Dan Klinedinst, senior vulnerability researcher at the Carnegie Mellon University's CERT Coordination Center, told eWEEK.

Having the depth of online data at your fingertips 24 hours a day—and seamlessly integrated into your view of the world—also has some deep privacy and societal implications, Franziska Roesner, an assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Washington, told eWEEK. People might know more about their acquaintances, but in the real-world equivalent of the "uncanny valley," the depth of knowledge may appear creepy.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...