September 28, 2011 - Twenty-eight percent of U.S. adults use location-based applications such as Facebook, Groupon and Google Maps on their mobile devices, and that number is expected to grow significantly.

But a new ISACA white paper cautions that regulating the use of geolocation data is still in its infancy, so individuals must be aware of the information they are sharing and enterprises must act now to protect themselves and the information they provide, collect and use.
Geolocation uses data acquired from a computer or mobile device to identify a physical location. Applications using this technology offer consumers greater convenience, discounted prices and easy information sharing, and enable enterprises to deliver more personalized customer service and offers. But as geolocation services become more common, the need for data management and enterprise controls increases significantly.
As ISACA’s new white paper, “Geolocation: Risk, Issues and Strategies,” points out, malicious use of geolocation data can put both an individual and an enterprise at risk. When a person’s personal information, such as gender, race, occupation and financial history, is combined with information from a GPS and geolocation tags, the data can be used by criminals to identify an individual’s present or future location. This raises the potential of threats ranging from burglary and theft to stalking and kidnapping.
“As the number of geolocation users grows and the proliferation of mobile devices continues, the prospect of individual or enterprise information becoming available to hackers or other unauthorized users is a significant concern,” said Marios Damianides, CISM, CISA, CA, CPA, past international president of ISACA and partner, Advisory Services, at Ernst & Young. “We need policies that will establish ‘privacy by design’ to instill trust across the enterprise and guard against malicious use of location information.”
Regulators are aware of such concerns and are moving to enact rules regarding how companies can use geolocation data. Current U.S. legislation proposed by Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) would restrict whether companies can store individual location data obtained from mobile devices, and a proposed amendment to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission addresses the collection of geolocation data from children under age 13.
Collecting and using geolocation data pose risk to the enterprise, including:

  • Privacy:  Geo-tagging is implemented by users, but there may be multiple entities that have access to the data, including the service provider and wireless access points/developers. Users can’t always identify (or aren’t always aware of) the source or owner of their location data.
  • Enterprise reputation: When breaches occur or policies have not been communicated clearly to customers, organizations risk negative perceptions of their brand.
  • Compromise of sensitive information: The physical location of an enterprise and its remote facilities/equipment can be identified, increasing potential for loss of sensitive information through a variety of attacks.   

“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, 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 disastrous.”
What Can the Enterprise Do?

  • Implement technology safeguards, leveraging frameworks such as COBIT as guidelines for policy development.
  • Regularly update the operating systems and software of work devices to ensure security improvements are quickly proliferated throughout the enterprise.
  • Classify data, making the most sensitive data (personal, financial, client-sensitive or confidential) unreadable or inaccessible.
  • Design a device management program that includes where the users connect, etc.
  • Take into account the applicable legislation and regulations on privacy around the world, which differ by country.
  •  Implement an effective risk management policy that identifies where geolocation services add value and are to be utilized, and where they should be disabled. Geolocation should be part of an organization’s risk profile. 

What Can Consumers and Employees Do?
ISACA advises people to follow a five-step “ROUTE” for informed use of geolocation services:

  • Read mobile app agreements to see what information you are sharing.
  • Only enable geolocation when the benefits outweigh the risk.
  • Understand that others can track your current and past locations.
  • Think before posting tagged photos to social media sites.
  • Embrace the technology, and educate yourself and others.  

“There are great consumer advantages of geolocation services, such as photos being tagged with the correct location or assisting you with directions to the location you are travelling. However, as with all technologies, individuals and enterprises must consider their risk tolerance level,” said Robert Stroud, past international vice president of ISACA and vice president, Strategy and Innovation, at CA Technologies. “The fundamental issue at play is that many consumers are unaware of the risks. They need to educate themselves in order to make informed decisions.” 
For more information on geolocation risk, benefits and governance issues, download the free ISACA white paper from
Information is the currency of the 21st century enterprise, driving a growing need for enterprises to identify critical issues and effectively support the governance of information and related technologies. ISACA’s COBIT is a comprehensive, customizable decision-making framework comprising best practices, analytical tools and process models that maximize an organization’s return on investment (ROI) in information and the technology that enables it.  Building on more than 15 years of real-world application and developed by senior IT and business leaders worldwide, the next edition of COBIT—COBIT 5—will provide the most complete and up-to-date guidance on the effective management of enterprise technology. For more information on COBIT 5, which will be released in early 2012, visit
With 95,000 constituents in 160 countries, ISACA® is a leading global provider of knowledge, certifications, community, advocacy, and education on information systems (IS) assurance and security, enterprise governance and management of IT, and IT-related risk and compliance. Founded in 1969, the nonprofit, independent ISACA hosts international conferences, publishes the ISACA® Journal, and develops international IS auditing and control standards, which help its constituents ensure trust in, and value from, information systems. It also advances and attests IT skills and knowledge through the globally respected Certified Information Systems Auditor® (CISA®), Certified Information Security Manager® (CISM®), Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT® (CGEIT®) and Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control™ (CRISC™) designations. ISACA continually updates COBIT®, which helps IT professionals and enterprise leaders fulfill their IT governance and management responsibilities, particularly in the areas of assurance, security, risk and control, and deliver value to the business.
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