“Gotta catch ‘em all.”
Many around the world know this as the slogan of Pokémon, a media franchise that is partnered with the video gaming company Nintendo. The concept of Pokémon was created as a card game over 20 years ago and has been loved by many adolescents and children around the world ever since. In July 2016, a mobile application called Pokémon GO was released that uses geo-location technology to allow users to virtually catch Pokémon, Japanese animal-like cartoon characters.
This family-friendly mobile application quickly became a worldwide craze – and Pokémon GO has been downloaded more than 7.5 million times in the United States alone in its first week after release. However, while catching virtual cartoon characters may not seem a likely topic for a discussion of security risk issues, there are potential causes for concern.
10,000 Pokémon Go Players Swarmed Chicago’s Millennium Park
Public facilities are frequently the sites of PokéStops and Poké Gyms – places that spawn Pokémon characters for players to catch. There have been multiple reported Stops and Gyms located at police stations, government facilities and large businesses. Although this, in itself, does not pose a potential security risk concern, the number of people seeking out these areas and the potentially malicious motives of some individuals can be problematic.
On July 17, Pokémon GO users in the Chicago area met downtown at Millennium Park to search for and catch Pokémon together. According to Chicago TV news station ABC 7, more than 21,000 individuals indicated on Facebook that they planned to attend the Pokémon meet-up. Although only half that amount showed up, 10,000 people playing a smart-phone application in one place can be a security risk nightmare.
Pokémon GO – A Criminal’s Playground
Criminals have used their knowledge of PokéStop and Poké Gym locations as a way to exploit others while also exploiting facilities with high levels of foot traffic. Government agencies have found that some players have impacted their security operations by having Poké Gyms located at secure areas, not open to the public. ABC News reported that players of Pokémon GO have been found trying to gain access to private property including the White House, the Pentagon, police stations and other government agencies in order to catch a Pokémon they were pursuing. There has been an increase in reports of suspicious activity around these critical infrastructures.
There have also been multiple reports of Pokémon GO users trespassing on private property at all hours of the night. Although these individuals have not been found to have malicious intentions, criminals potentially could use the application as an excuse to trespass and take pictures as a way to survey an area. Although there have been no reports of intentional security breaches, law enforcement agencies are always on the alert for individuals potentially scoping government facilities and other critical infrastructure with such intentions.
According to an article published in USA Today on July 22, criminals have targeted Pokémon GO users to rob them or hack into their mobile devices.
Security industry alerts cautioned that PokéStops and Poké Gyms could be attractive targets for pickpocketers, muggers, and others. Protect yourself, if a criminal knows that an individual will be at a certain location at a certain time it could create an opportunity for a home invasion and burglary. Experts are warning that sexual predators may request that a PokéStop be created near them in order to lure others to their area.
At Least 3 Reported Pokémon GO Incidents
Some of the reported incidents that have occurred during the first two weeks of the application’s launch include the following:According to Time Magazine, two teenagers, in Florida, were shot at while sitting in their car. The shooter allegedly thought the Pokémon GO users were planning to break into the shooter’s house based on a conversation the users were having with each other.
- According to Portland TV news station WCSH 6, two women playing Pokémon GO in Redding, California were approached by assailants demanding their purses and wallets. After refusing, the women were attacked.
- According to CNN, two men fell off a cliff after trying to catch a Pokémon in Encinitas, California.
- According to New York Daily News, individuals on the East Coast have been hit by cars and crashed their vehicle while playing the game.
- According to Yahoo! Finance, a third-party group lured players into downloading their malicious version of Pokémon GO, which gave the group access to all the phone users’ personal information. Even though such reports appear to mostly come from outside the United States, this issue is important to note.