What parents need to know about secret 'photo vault' apps

Canon City HS involved in massive sexting scandal

DENVER - Investigators announced on Friday that they have a phone with hundreds of sexual images on it related to a massive sexting bust at Canon City High School.

They said nearly half the students in the school were taking photos and passing them from device to device. All of it was hidden from parents because of new secretive apps known as "photo vaults."

A quick search of the apple app store reveals hundreds of these private, secret photo apps often disguised as calculators or audio managers.

"They've become extraordinarily advanced," said Metro State University security expert Steve Beaty. "It's an application -- it does work, but there is also the dark side of it."

With one app called "Calculator Lock," users type in a secret four-digit code on the calculator and press the equal sign. The app then transforms into a secret vault where users can store photos, messages or browse the internet.

In Canon City, administrators uncovered students using the apps to collect and share naked photos.

"It might be funny or fun today but ten years from now is that really what you want to have out there?" asked Beaty.

RELATED: Canon City High School investigating exchange of nude pictures among hundreds of students

He said the apps aren't new, but the technology is becoming more sophisticated. "They're able to hide more and more things," said Beaty.

A lot of the apps are so advanced they allow for two passwords.

Users can type in one, known as a back-up or decoy password, and everything on the app disappears. When users type in their master password, perhaps only known to them, it's all back.

"You have to type in exactly the right number to unlock and get behind and see the photos," said Beaty.

While teens may think the photos are hidden from their parents. Beaty said there's nothing stopping the developers of the apps from sharing the photos.

"It could just take your hidden photos and send them to somebody else on the net, and there you go your information is then compromised in ways you never imagined," he said.

The apps can be hard to track for parents.

Beaty said the most important thing for parents to do is to get educated on the apps that are out there.

"We need to stay on top of our game with our kids and make sure that as they gain capabilities with their technology, that we're right there with them," he said.

Beaty also suggests looking for apps that seem out-of-place or aren't needed, like another calculator app since most phones come pre-installed with one.

Bottom line, he said parents need to check their kid's phone and know when new apps are downloaded.

"It is effort, but there's nothing else essentially that beats effort when we're parenting," Beaty said.

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