How Others Compromise Your Location Privacy: The Case of Shared Public IPs at Hotspots
Location privacy has been extensively studied over the last few years, especially in the context of location-based services where users purposely disclose their location to benefit from convenient context-aware services. To date, however, little attention has been devoted to the case of users' location being unintentionally compromised by others. In this paper, we study a concrete and widespread example of such situations, specifically the location-privacy threat created by access points (e.g., public hotspots) using network address translation (NAT). Indeed, because users connected to the same hotspot share a unique public IP, a single user making a location-based request is enough to enable a service provider to map the IP of the hotspot to its geographic coordinates, thus compromising the location privacy of all the other connected users. When successful, the service provider can locate users within a few hundreds of meters, thus improving over existing IP-location databases. Even in the case where IPs change periodically (e.g., by using DHCP), the service provider is still able to update a previous (IP, Location) mapping by inferring IP changes from authenticated communications (e.g., cookies). The contribution of this paper is three-fold: (i) We identify a novel threat to users' location privacy caused by the use of shared public IPs. (ii) We formalize and analyze theoretically the threat. The resulting framework can be applied to any access-point to quantify the privacy threat. (iii) We experimentally assess the state in practice by using real traces of users accessing Google services, collected from deployed hotspots. Also, we discuss how existing countermeasures can thwart the threat.