GPS Fleet Tracking is usually associated with taxi fleets, armored transport and police/security vehicles. In reality, a lot of companies use GPS tracking not just for their company fleet, but also for personal tracking of their top employees or sensitive equipment. And GPS itself brings a whole new challenges to information security.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a Global Navigation Satellite System developed by the United States Department of Defense. It uses a constellation of between 24 and 32 Medium Earth Orbit satellites that transmit precise microwave signals, that enable GPS receivers to determine their current location, the time, and their velocity (including direction).
The GPS Fleet Tracking uses a GPS receiver paired with a radio transmitter. The GPS receiver determines it's location, direction and velocity and transmits this information to a central monitoring system via the radio transmitter. The radio transmitter part is most frequently a GSM mobile phone device which transmits the data via GSM Data or GPRS data capability as TCP/IP packets.
The central monitoring system is a server that receives the packets sent by the GPS tracking devices, stores them in a database and presents them as an overlay on a map.
The following diagram presents the overall system:
- The GPS receiver contacts the GPS satellites and calculates it's position, velocity and direction. At any given time, the GPS receiver has at least 3 satellites over the horizon to contact
- The GPS tracking device sends the calculated information via the GPRS data link to the information hub
- The information hub relays the received information to the GPS Tracking server
- The user uses the monitoring station to follow the fleet or to review the information about any vehicle stored in the database.
The Business Benefits
There are well known business benefits of using a Fleet Tracking system. Here are several:
- Tracked vehicles are used much more responsibly and only for the intended purpose (no detours to buy groceries, or weekend trips to the lake).
- Because they are used for the planned purpose, the fuel usage is much more optimal.
- Ability to observe employee vehicle usage to establish their responsibility towards company assets.
Apart from a clearly business perspective, GPS Tracking has security benefits
- GPS Fleet Tracking enables stolen vehicles to be recovered very fast.
- Paired with a panic button, it can be used for tracking and helping kidnapped or blackmailed key personnel (the chief officers and other key employees can be equipped with such GPS Tracking device)
- Valuable or sensitive equipment or assets can be observed during transport to identify situations where the asset has deviated or been delayed in transport - a major indication of attempt at tampering or theft
The open and sensitive questions
Naturally, every new system brings new challenges for information security. Here are the most common ones connected to GPS tracking:
- How do you secure your GPS tracking database - the GPS tracking data is sensitive to say the least. Anyone stealing that data can analyze the travel patterns of each vehicle and subject tracked and plan a possible theft or crime. Also, the GPS tracking data will identify the 'blind spots' where tracking is impossible, like tunnels, parking structures, even streets with train tracks above them - which are first choice for theft.
- How do access the GPS tracking data? - if one cannot steal the information from the database, it can be stolen in transit. If the monitoring station and the servers are at a distance from each other, always use an encrypted channel to access this information.
- Do you inform your employees of GPS Tracking systems? - Informing the employees that their vehicles are tracked is a double edged sword: If you do inform them, they should be more careful, but on the other hand some of them will go to great lengths to destroy the GPS device so they can go about their way as they used to. If you don't inform them, you can end up in court for a number of infractions - depending on the judicial system
- Do you control against rogue GPS devices - just as you use GPS for a legitimate function, a criminal may use a rogue GPS device to simply collect information off your vehicles. There isn't a very easy to find such devices once they are planted, but it is much easier to control the access to the relevant vehicles to prevent a criminal from approaching them for a time that will enable him to plant the rogue device.
The GPS Fleet Tracking systems are very useful systems, and can enable the company to achieve considerable savings to their fleet management, as well as provide additional security leverage for personal and asset safety.
But at the same time, it introduces a new system with it's own IT and communications requirements, and another repository of highly confidential data.
So any company implementing a GPS Fleet Tracking system should clearly define its objectives and requirements, and seek out a professional integrator to deliver the entire solution, always bearing in mind that the solution must be both functional and secure.
Talkback and comments are most welcome