Home > Blogs > Mobile Security: Physical Location Tracking

On the level of global commerce, we are addicted to devices. By the start of 2015, it is estimated there will be 3 billion Android devices in circulation around the world. Of those, there are roughly 19,000 distinct devices in operation. On the same accord, there are roughly 550 million active iOS devices globally with another few hundred million being phased out. As a global culture we love our mobile devices. Yet here is the thing, by all measures, our devices aren't all that secure. In both data and physicality, our devices have an operational tendency to betray us. 

This said, a question: what is more worrisome, mobile data security risks or mobile device physical security risks? 

Smartphone GPS Tracking

Our society is run on virtual data. All of our communications are electronic based. All of our banking is filtered though servers. All of our personal communications function off multiple grids - information, structural and electrical. Everything we do as a society and as individuals, in some way shape or form, finds its footing in a structural network grid all governed by network rules and the constant flow of power.

In simple terms, this means we are all connected to one another. With international close knit connection via a singular entity increasingly breaking off into multiple private and dark networks, the need for security is in constant demand. With an increasing reliance on data driven networks accessed via mobile devices, the underpinnings of global commerce are increasingly balanced on the backs of programmers and network analysts working to secure loopholes in the system, within access points, within individual operating systems and within tech hardware.

At the moment, our most pressing concern seems to data security. Taken from one of many hacks committed in the past year, examples of false pretense of data security abound. Ask Linkedin, Twitter, Google, Apple or Jennifer Lawrence about data security and you will get a mouthful. Our concept of data security is much frailer than most users realize or care to think about. 

Through common Internet phishing attacks, implanted Trojan viruses and an entire army of professional hackers, our data is only as secure as we advertise it to be. The larger the target, it seems, the more vulnerable they are to being hacked, leaked and laid bare. Target knows this all too well.

And yet, with customer credit card information leaking on a regular basis and the largest companies - both service providers and financial institutions - regularly being targeted, consumers remain optimistic and ignorant about the state of our global data security protocols. Maybe we have become to accustomed to the immediacy of it all. Everything done on the go. Everything completed through a four inch screen. Any and every service feeding our need for immediate satisfaction. There's an app for that, full with a false sense of security, privacy and protection.

Even still, our biggest concern isn't data leaks or hacking. We all understand that our email might be hacked and that our credit card information might be spouted onto the open market sold to the highest bidder. We all understand that. What most people don't understand though is how our increasing reliance on mobile devices betrays our personal, physical security.

GPS or Not, Tracking Is Constant

For anyone who has a mobile device (if you are reading this, count yourself included), your mobile devices - phone, tablet, laptop - can and is being used to mark your physical location as you move about your town, city, state, country. The false assumption reads like this, "as long as I have my GPS disabled, my movements can not be tracked by interested parties - malevolent or otherwise." This assumption is wholly wrong.

As noted by Wikipedia:

"Mobile phone tracking refers to the ascertaining of the current position of a mobile phone, stationary or moving. Localization may occur either via multilateration of radio signals between (several) radio towers of the network and the phone, or simply via GPS. To locate the phone using multilateration of radio signals, it must emit at least the roaming signal to contact the next nearby antenna tower, but the process does not require an active call. GSM is based on the signal strength to nearby antenna masts."
"Mobile positioning, which includes location-based services that disclose the actual coordinates of a mobile phone bearer, is a technology used by telecommunication companies to approximate the location of a mobile phone, and thereby also its user (bearer). The more properly applied term locating refers to the purpose rather than a positioning process. Such service is offered as an option of the class of location-based services (LBS)."

Read that again. No need for GPS. Radio signal between radio towers correlated over cellular networks or GPS.

Add to this fact that politicians from around the globe endorse the use of backdoor tracking software factory installed in devices matched with the ever growing citywide use of cameras to monitor daily events and you can begin to see the threat to your physical privacy/security.

Having your data leaked through a massive corporate hack is one thing but having your physical location constantly monitored, whether you like it or not, is an entirely other paramount concern.

The counterargument, a common one, is to protect yourself, don't break any law. To make sure you aren't harassed physically, stay within the confines of the law. This argument, although common, holds no merit in an open society. If your position can be correlated at any moment or any day by anyone with access to network data, how secure are you?

The chances of your financial data being leaked are common and yet it is definite, if you carry a smart device, your movements are being tracked 24/7/365.

Our society has an issue with security. Data is constantly talked about. Physical isn't. I think it's time we devoted some real thought to the latter.

Remember, if you like this content and want to chat about it, you can reach me at the following social spaces:

  1. Twitter: @bleibowi
  2. Instagram: @byalie
  3. Linkedin: Brad Yale
  4. Google +: Brad Yale

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