Waze and Social Media Danger – the Kalandia Lesson

By Dr. Stephen Bryen*
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 @ 3:48PM

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An Israeli army driver and a squad commander entered the Kalandia Palestinian refugee camp by mistake while using the Waze smartphone GPS navigational app. They were attacked by the Palestinians with firearms and Molotov cocktails. The two soldiers, for unknown reasons, split up. Israeli security forces rescue team that was sent into the camp was attacked with firebombs and rocks, wounding moderately one Israeli. One armed Palestinian was killed.


By Heinrich Böll Stiftung from Berlin, Deutschland – Flüchtlingslager Kalandia, CC BY-SA 2.0,https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12071592

The Kalanadia refugee camp should long ago have been disbanded (as all other Palestinian refugee camps).  Located just outside the Jerusalem municipal boundary, the camp was created by UNRWA on land leased from Jordan in 1949.  Following the 1967 war, Israel controlled it until 1995 when it was replaced by an administrative Camp Services Committee, appointed by the Palestinian Authority. Israeli military patrols who provide protection for Israeli settlements and run counter-terrorism operations do not enter te camp. However, over the years, there have been numerous clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian terrorists fleeing to the camp for protection.

Waze is a collaborative GPS-based geographical navigation application program for smartphones and tablets. It was first developed in 2006 as “FreeMap Israel”,  for non-commercial usage, by  Ehud Shabtai,  In 2009, it became Waze Mobile Ltd. By 2013, with more than 50 million users, Waser the Best Overall Mobile App award of the Mobile World Congress, and was bought by Google for $1.1 billion. Waze is regularly used by many millions of drivers to get updates on traffic issues, to locate police radar and speed traps, and to provide location-specific alerts. Waze pointed out that the app warning feature was not enabled on the phone used by the soldiers, “[The app] “includes a specific default setting that prevents routes through areas which are marked as dangerous or prohibited for Israelis to drive through… The driver deviated from the suggested route and as a result, entered the prohibited area,

According to new reports, it seems the two Israeli soldiers used the Waze app though they were not explicitly authorized not to do so.

Waze, nonetheless, can be spoofed. It is possible, for example, for a hostile organization to set up a fake accident or other event and steer users from a popular route onto a route that could potentially lead them into a trap. In March 2014, four Software engineering students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology did just that by setting up a thousand or so fake accounts that provided false coordinates and claimed to be stuck in traffic, sending users off on alternative routes. Their project-scam worked as the students imagined it would.

If Waze can be spoofed, it can be used to set traps that could prove fatal. And in Israel, it is a genuine threat-risk. For example, Hamas and Hezbollah, not to mention the Syrian Electronic Army, its Iranian equivalent, and probably Isis, can spoof an app like Waze and use it to lead both military, police and private citizens into ambushes.

Waze is but one example of a social media app that brings with it considerable risks. The fact that two Israeli soldiers got into terrible trouble shows just how serious the risks can be.

In the United States, and in Israel, the line between commercial products and military-defense applications is extremely blurry. Both countries, and their counterparts around the world are using social media type apps and other commercial hardware and software products for security. This leads to a growing perfect storm of risk that the enemies of peace and freedom are exploiting and will do even more to exploit in future.

Senior officials, top military officers, and police and law enforcement personnel have been using social media to exchange sensitive information, often confusing personal and private matters with their official responsibilities. This opens them up to exploitation that can include threats to their families and friends as happened when the families of US Army personnel were threatened by al-Qaeda and other radical groups. Just recently a group called the Islamic State Hacking Division posted the names, photos, and addresses of about 100 U.S. troops online, calling to attack them. CNN reported on a Tweet, claiming to come from ISIS, , was one saying “”We won’t stop! We know everything about you, your wives and children. U.S. soldiers! We’re watching you!” ”

Commenting on the Kalandia incident, Israeli Defense Minister   “I learned ages ago the importance of navigating with the aid of a real map, and mainly to know the surrounding area and not to rely too heavily on technology which can lead the user astray,”

“I learned ages ago the importance of navigating with the aid of a real map, and mainly to know the surrounding area and not to rely too heavily on technology which can lead the user astray.”

The US government has not issued any clear rules on social media, including Wase. Nor, as far as is known, has Israel.

Israel has vowed to investigate the circumstances of the Waze incident at Kalandia. Perhaps more will be learned; perhaps not. But the bottom line is that government, military and law enforcement are lacking sound policy about social media and treating it as if it is not a problem. That is clearly a big mistake.



* This commentary has been published on Dr. Stephen Bryen’s Science and Technology on March 2, 2016.


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