Automation I’d like to test: mobile phone GPS tracking

Posted by Albert Gareev on Apr 01, 2010 | Categories: NotesReviews

A few facts to now

Most of cell phones now come with a built-in GPS receiver hardware unit and GPS tracking software module. Basically, you can assume that any smart phone whether it’s Blackberry, iPhone, or Nokia, (or whatever) model has it, and it’s turned ON by default.

A GPS tracking equipped cell phone can precisely identify its location with a plus-minus few centimeters accuracy. Government regulations require reporting of location with 100 meters accuracy (depends on country) but the actual numbers are still available.

A GPS tracked data can be internally stored by a smart phone or they can be automatically transmitted in real-time to the Mobile Service Provider where they are processed. Route information including location-time and direction-speed can be archived and stored in the database.

Ways its officially used

  • Federal: 911 emergency call tracking
  • Business: employee tracking
  • Personal: family member tracking, both children and spouses

Other offered ways to use

  • Traffic monitoring
  • Social Networks: post tracking


 Questions and Concerns

The main subject to be aware of is that it’s a global infrastructure. Once it’s implemented it’s always ON. Even if the cell phone does not have a GPS tracking system it can still be tracked directly from cell signal towers (although not as precisely) and processed with the same software installed.

I have not found articles on the Web where testing of the whole GPS tracking infrastructure was described but I have found a lot of articles stating actual security weaknesses of infrastructure components.

Approaching from a component testing direction I see the following vulnerabilities.

  1. Device Level
  2. Physical access. Activating GPS takes time from a few seconds to a few minutes (if installation/configuring is required). How often do you leave your phone unattended for a few seconds? Do you check all the settings and applications if you pick up your phone from service?

    Wireless access. A smart phone could be hacked through Bluetooth (Note paragraph 4 in security tips) or through Wi-Fi connection. Then either GPS tracking could be enabled or previously stored GPS data downloaded.

  3. Network Level
  4. Any wireless transmission could be captured. Chances of hijacking it depend on encryption capacities of your device and decrypting capacities of hacker’s device. As for 3G GSM Network, this has already been done.  You may receive “a most recent security update” that will take control over your smart phone.

  5. Provider Level
  6. From one perspective, it’s a generic data storage security question. From another, hundreds of thousands of GPS tracked data (that is: peoples’ typical routes and sites, time-travel habits, etc.) is a huge value itself, that must be considered during Data Center security classification.

My invitation

I found a lot of articles regarding Mobile/GPS security while preparing this post. I plan to research further with regards to security questions and concerns I stated, and I publish results in my blog.

If you already have an article or a blog post about testing of Mobile/GPS security, or you are now inspired to put your thoughts on it, don’t hesitate to let me know, I’d be glad to include a link to your publication.

And, by the way, you can use free Mobile Phone Tracking service to scare your friends today!

Update 2011/04 What Did I Tell you?

Read the entire article.

  • 4 responses to "Automation I’d like to test: mobile phone GPS tracking"

  • Jess
    6th April 2010 at 10:53

    This is a bittersweet news for everyone who owns smartphones. It is good as you can have a GPS device come in handy anywhere you go. But it can be bad if you do not know how to do this and others may track you without you knowing it.

  • Chris
    19th April 2010 at 10:23

    Here is a reference about smartphone hacking options.

  • iPhoneInfo
    25th May 2010 at 11:50

    Unlock and jailbreak your iPhone

  • cell phone spyware software
    3rd February 2011 at 3:00

    One of the best features that comes with this cell phone spyware is GPS tracking software, this really cool feature shows how to track a cell phone location and pin-point the exact spot on google maps in real time.

    Need to find a good reason to spy on someone’s phone?…

    1.Is your partner cheating on you?
    2.Is your child buying illegal drugs?
    3.Are your employees stealing from you?
    4.Is your new business partner arranging shady deals behind your back?
    5.Is your Daughter talking and meeting that no good deadbeat you warned her about?
    6.Are they really out working late, or have they gone out on a date?
    7.Do you need to find out the truth to many questions not listed here?

    [ Albert’s comment.
    Exactly what I was talking about.
    I removed the link, by the way. ]

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
This work by Albert Gareev is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.