A Run a Day Won’t Keep the Hacker Away: Inference Attacks on Endpoint Privacy Zones in Fitness Tracking Social Networks

Karel Dhondt, Victor Le Pochat, Alexios Voulimeneas, Wouter Joosen, Stijn Volckaert

Presented at 2022 ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS 2022)

2022 CNIL-Inria Privacy Protection Award Runner-up

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Fitness tracking social networks such as Strava allow users to record sports activities and share them publicly. Sharing encourages peer interaction but also constitutes a risk, because an activity's start or finish may inadvertently reveal privacy-sensitive locations such as a home or workplace. To mitigate this risk, networks introduced endpoint privacy zones (EPZs), which hide track portions around protected locations. In this paper, we show that EPZ implementations of major services remain vulnerable to inference attacks that significantly reduce the effective anonymity provided by the EPZ, and even reveal the protected location. Our attack leverages distance information leaked in activity metadata, street grid data, and the locations of the entry points into the EPZ. This yields a constrained search space where we use regression analysis to predict protected locations. Our evaluation on 1.4 million Strava activities shows that our attack discovers the protected location for up to 85% of EPZs. Larger EPZs reduce the performance of our attack, while geographically dispersed activities in sparser street grids yield better performance. We propose six countermeasures, that, however, come with a usability trade-off, and responsibly disclosed our findings and countermeasures to the major networks.

DOI: 10.1145/3548606.3560616


author = {Dhondt, Karel and Le Pochat, Victor and Voulimeneas, Alexios and Joosen, Wouter and Volckaert, Stijn},
title = {A Run a Day Won't Keep the Hacker Away: Inference Attacks on Endpoint Privacy Zones in Fitness Tracking Social Networks},
booktitle = {2022 ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security},
series = {CCS '22},
year = 2022,
pages = {801--814},
doi = {10.1145/3548606.3560616}