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Mobile device users warned against risks of geolocation apps

Veronica C. Silva | Nov. 18, 2011
Users, particularly the enterprise, are urged to put more controls on their devices.

The issue has been raised several times before. Mobile device users are putting themselves at risk because some features, services or applications on their devices can pinpoint exactly where they are at any given time. Now, a US-based IT non-profit organisation is advising that if users can't beat the trend, the least they could do is to educate and protect themselves.

Facebook, LINE, Groupon, and Google Maps. These are a few applications users can download on their mobile devices to deliver a variety of products and services - social networking, staying in touch, get the latest discount coupons, and a handy, interactive map to reach a destination. All these can be availed of provided users submit some information that can help deliver these services and information to their mobile devices.

Though convenient and useful to mobile users, ISACA, the non-profit organisation, said there is a need to better manage the data being delivered to the network providers, and improve on enterprise controls.

ISACA, which has more than 95,000 members in 160 countries worldwide, said both individuals and enterprises are at risk because of these location-based applications and services.


In a white paper titled "Geolocation: Risk, Issues and Strategies," ISACA said that when users submit personal information, such as their location, gender, etc., they can be the target for crimes, such as burglary, kidnapping, theft, and stalking. Add to these risks a possible invasion of privacy, if the data submitted are stolen by cyber criminals.

"As the number of geolocation users and mobile devices grows, the prospect of individual or enterprise information becoming available to hackers or other unauthorised users is a significant concern," said Michael Yung, president, ISACA China Hong Kong Chapter.

"We live in a mobile world and geolocation is here to stay. It brings obvious benefits both to individuals and enterprises, but if not managed properly, the associated risk will be substantial," said Ramsés Gallego, a member of ISACA's Guidance and Practices Committee and security strategist and evangelist at Quest Software. "It directly impacts individuals' and enterprises' privacy and confidentiality, and the consequences of poor governance over geolocation can be severe."

Susanna Chiu, public relations director, ISACA China Hong Kong Chapter, said that while geolocation apps have their advantages, individuals and enterprise alike should be aware of the risks involved in using some of these applications.

Security risks

"As some of the applications, such as LINE app and Find My Friends, are raising some security concerns these days, this highlights the need to raise the awareness of the risk among consumers and to educate them so they can make informed decisions," added Chiu.

ISACA advises enterprises to implement a risk management policy taking into account geolocation services. The enterprise should also specify a device management programme to indicate where mobile users can connect.


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