Computer Science and Engineering, Department of


Date of this Version



A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Computer Science, Under the Supervision of Professor Lisong Xu and Professor Wenbo He. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2011

Copyright (c) 2011 Mai Ren

This work was first published in ICDCS 2011.


Location-based mobile social network services such as Foursquare and Gowalla have grown exponentially over the past several years. These location-based services utilize the geographical position to enrich user experiences in a variety of contexts, including location-based searching and location-based mobile advertising. To attract more users, the location-based mobile social network services provide real-world rewards to the user, when a user checks in at a certain venue or location. This gives incentives for users to cheat on their locations.

In this thesis, we investigate the threat of location cheating attacks, find the root cause of the vulnerability, and outline the possible defending mechanisms. We use Foursquare as an example to introduce a novel location cheating attack, which can easily pass the current location verification mechanism (e.g., cheater code of Foursquare). We also crawl the Foursquare's website. By analyzing the crawled data, we show that automated large scale cheating is possible. Throughout this work, we aim to call attention to location cheating in mobile social network services and provide insights into the defending mechanisms.

Advisers: Lisong Xu and Wenbo He