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Computer Security: Pokémon GO! Or not?

Have fun and catch them all. But also take some physical and digital care



Have you already joined the hype surrounding the No. 1 iOS and Android app “Pokémon GO” and started hunting for wild virtual Pokémon while walking through the real world? Have fun and catch them all!!! But also take some physical and digital care!

If you haven’t heard of “Pokémon GO”, it is an iOS and Android game in which your virtual avatar has to hunt for cute and sometimes less cute little monsters, so-called Pokémon (if you are as old as me or have kids, yes, those GameBoy, TV Series, card-game Pokémon!). The ultimate goal is to find and collect all 150 different Pokémon species. Your smartphone’s location information displayed on a Google map lookalike provides you with hints as to where to find them. Augmented reality is employed to project virtual Pokémon in your vicinity onto your smartphone’s camera picture so that you can catch them by throwing “Poké Balls” at them. These items can be found at other locations, known as “Poké Stops”. The more Pokémon you collect, the more powerful you become (see here for details). No harm in that, eh?

True, from a health perspective, “Pokémon GO” is great as it encourages you to walk around, which is good for all of us. But there is a snag: the app does not know about places you must not go! Walking around while staring at your smartphone’s screen already poses a safety risk. So watch where you are going! Roads. Stairs. Ditches. Open manholes. Ponds! Playing the app while riding a bike or driving (!) is stupid: it goes without saying. In addition, the app just embeds Pokémon where its algorithm deems them best suited. Arlington Cemetery, close to Washington D.C., has already asked players to refrain from playing the game on its premises. The same might be true for hospital wards. And, of course, for CERN: some buildings, caverns, tunnels and other locations on the CERN sites are definitely off limits for gaming. Don’t hunt Pokémon in these locations as it might be dangerous to your health. Some other locations might be off limits as they are private property… Worse, some criminals have used the game to lure people to deserted places, to rob them of their belongings. Think of your safety first! Watch your surroundings, be sensible and don’t get too immersed.

Digitally, there are also risks: “Pokémon GO” has not been made available in all countries, so you might think of downloading the app from dubious sources… But “dubious” already implies that you might get more that you asked for: a full compromise of your smartphone due to the app you downloaded being malicious (see “Android’s Armageddon” for examples). Better to wait to download it from the legitimate and official iOS app store or Google Play! Furthermore, as with many other apps, the “Pokémon GO” app is constantly recording your location, which has an impact on your privacy. Finally, some particularly nefarious people have also jumped on the bandwagon. Malicious e-mails are flooding the Internet all the time and now the first “phishing” e-mails have appeared, luring players to click on fraudulent links (learn here how to identify “bad” e-mails).

For further information, questions or help, check our website or contact us at Computer.Security@cern.ch.

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