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Geofencing could add security layer for mobile devices

Maria Korolov | March 4, 2015
Geofencing could offer an extra layer of security but some worry about privacy and battery life.

"Employees could use location functionality to access client data for a client whom they are about to visit," said Philip Casesa, director of IT at Clearwater, Florida-based International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium. "Or they could be automatically connected to the corporate LAN when in proximity of a company facility."

And location tracking could also be useful if there was an emergency, and life-saving services needed to be dispatched to the employee's location, he added.

Geofencing could also be useful for corporate board meetings, said Brian Cleary, chief strategy officer at Boston-based bigtincan, a mobile content management company.

"Presentations or sensitive documents can be shared as board members walk into the meeting room, and then once they leave the designated perimeters, those materials can be removed from the device," he said.

Privacy, battery life, and spoofing
Companies considering geofencing should be aware of the negatives, however, which go beyond the cost and time of installing the technology.

"GeoFencing has a number of hurdles to overcome," said (ISC)2's Caseca. "The first is the privacy issue. With GPS, the tracking of a device's location could be used to extrapolate employee activity outside of the work environment -- a situation most employees would find distasteful."

By its very nature, location data is difficult to anonymize, said Jean Taggart, senior security researcher at San Jose, Calif.-based Malwarebytes Corp.

Companies should make certain they have informed consent from their employees before rolling out the technology, she said.

"A delivery driver should know that the company phone has this functionality, and administrators should be completely upfront about what can done with the aggregated data," she said. "Geofencing a device can yield additional security, and at the same time can be tremendously intrusive. It is paramount that the end user understand the ramifications of this data collection."

Companies should also not rely too much on geofencing for security, said Charles Tendell, CEO at Denver-based Azorian Cyber Security.

"On certain devices, the GPS lock can be spoofed or locked," he said. "Using it as security only works if it's in conjunction with another measure."

Finally, there's the battery life issue. GPS is a major drain on today's smartphones.

"Most organizations like the concept of geofencing but find they either really don't have the need or their workforce is mobile and thus geofencing provides little value," said Adam Ely, CSO and co-founder at San Francisco-based Bluebox Security.

According to CoSoSys' Foeckl, however, these challenges can all be addressed.

In particular, some of the biggest problems come from relying too much on the GPS, and not using other location mechanism.

"If you rely on a second factor -- like proximity to some other devices, such as secure beacons that act as tokens -- that cannot be spoofed," he said.


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