Metadata is a treasure trove.
When using your computer, there is a lot of data created beyond what is normally accessed by individuals. Such information can include the day the file was created, when it was last accessed, what kind of file it is, and even recent browser history. Metadata is useful in countless scenarios especially when the computer is trying to read the file.
There are many kinds of metadata; There is descriptive metadata, structural metadata, administrative metadata, reference metadata, statistical metadata, and even legal metadata. These data files contain a lot of pertinent data which can be useful but can also be used against you.
Metadata, as described above, has many types and not all files have the same metadata. Depending on its application, some metadata may be more detailed than other. To put it simply, metadata is defined as data about data. It is data used to describe and summarize the other data which can make tracking and classifying it easier and more efficient. The different types of metadata contain different information. Below are some of the most common forms that metadata can be found.
Descriptive metadata is used for discovery and identification. That information is used to search and locate an object by description such as title, author, subjects, keywords, and publisher.
Structural metadata describes how the object is organized based on its components. A good example of structural metadata would be how the pages in a book are ordered to form chapters. The metadata would be almost like the table of contents of that book.
Administrative metadata gives information to help manage the source. Administrative metadata refers to the technical information of the object including file type, when and how the file was created, and more. Administrative metadata would be what the computer uses to know how to open a video file with a media player and not with a word document editor.
Although metadata can be useful in determining information about a file, like for example if an image is copyrighted material, it can also be used to collect information about individuals. Metadata is stored in everything from your website usage to pictures you take. All of that information can be logged and tracked if you are not careful.
One of the most recent examples of metadata being used against individuals is against John McAfee. The same creator of the McAfee antivirus company, was fleeing from Belize police after being a prime suspect of the murder of his neighbor. As a result, he fled the scene. His downfall began once he started blogging and documenting his escapades. This would result in his location being tracked down. Shortly after an interview with a news reporter, his image got posted on the internet with him posing alongside the reporter. Whoever took the photo forgot to turn off location services, therefore resulting in the longitude and latitude GPS locations to be stored into the metadata of the image. This led to Guatemalan officials to detain him as being a person of interest for the murder.
There are ways to reduce the amount of metadata being collected. However, not all metadata can be stopped, since it can be a crucial component to data files. In order to reduce the amount of data collected on you, you may turn off services that add to the metadata such as location services. Turning off location services reduces the number of times your device accesses your location so that it cannot be stored.
Users can also try using the internet with a VPN service when security is crucial. By doing this, VPN can make it difficult for people attempting to track your data to get a hold of all of it. However, not all VPN are safe, and Firestorm Cyber advises against using any free VPN.
Click here to read more about John McAfee’s mistake, our partner Sophos (a trusted firewall vendor) does a deeper dive onto how he got captured.