Device Tracking

Types of device tracking software: a complete guide

Learn the differences and nuances of device tracking software, to choose the perfect fit for your client or organization.

March 8, 2023

The idea of tracking, as we know it now, is not a novel concept in our world. From radars becoming popular in war times to the precise GPS locators of today, the need to locate things has been always associated with control and security. As the risks in cyber security related to lost or stolen devices grow and evolve, so is the need for software to help organizations and clients in that regard.

But besides our phones and dedicated devices for consumers, there is a great deal of software that integrates location capabilities. But no software works the same way, tackles the same issues, or –as Scott Steiner eloquently puts it– is created equal to one another. Let’s find out what category may be useful to your organization or client.

Consumer Device Tracking Software

First, we have to tackle the most basic location software of all: consumer device tracking. It's the category where software like Apple’s Find My, Windows’ Find My Device and Google’s Find My Device fall. They’re pretty simple and intuitive to use, which is why they’re mostly aimed at home users. They also provide various benefits, including heightened security for users and their loved ones, cost savings from preventing device loss, and an increased sense of reassurance. Lastly, consumer software usually comes bundled with devices, at no added cost.

This type of tracking software provides a minimal degree of data protection features, which are especially relevant for professionals who rely on laptops and smartphones to store sensitive information, such as emails, contacts, and login credentials for remote work platforms. Nevertheless, the management tools associated with consumer location software don’t have dedicated controls for large fleets, and can’t be managed from a central console.

When to choose this for device tracking

  • Very small organizations or family businesses may benefit from consumer alternatives, if they want to protect only a small handful of devices
  • When the price is something concerning, as these alternatives are usually free
  • When device security would not be your first concern as an organization

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • A free alternative
  • Simple to use, straightforward and intuitive

Cons

  • They aren’t designed to be used for commercial purposes
  • Potential abuse by employers or governments
  • Risk of malicious use by unknown third parties

People tracking solutions

If you're searching for ways to track people, you may be familiar with commonly used people tracking software programs such as Device Tracker Plus and Life360. These software solutions provide a range of functionalities, including live location monitoring, geofencing notifications, panic buttons, route history reporting, and other helpful features.

These solutions assist in maintaining connections between families living far apart and enable employers to monitor their workforce. For instance, by employing Device Tracker Plus and Life360, individuals can trace the location history of their devices or loved ones, providing valuable insight into possible locations in case of a missing person or device. Additionally, these solutions feature advanced reporting tools that facilitate tracking device activities, ensuring both safety and productivity.

When to choose this for device tracking

  • When a company needs to keep track of its workforce instead of their devices, or when devices aren’t that important
  • To monitor critical personnel in a small handful of situations

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • People tracking is usually cheaper than other options, and you still are tracking the device
  • Employers can monitor their staff on the go
  • Certain options have reports that allow users to easily monitor device activity for safety and efficiency

Cons

  • Invasive technology can infringe upon personal privacy rights
  • Potential abuse by employers or governments
  • Risk of malicious use by unknown third parties

Device Tracking using tags or external hardware

Keeping track of assets and employees is an essential part of business operations. To achieve this, many companies use software solutions that allow device tracking using tags or external hardware. Two examples of such software are Cisco Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX) and Zebra MotionWorks.

Cisco CMX utilizes Wi-Fi access points to track devices that are connected to a Wifi network. It can also integrate with BLE beacons for more precise tracking indoors. With CMX, companies can monitor customer behavior, track the movement of assets, and analyze foot traffic patterns to optimize store layouts. Zebra MotionWorks, on the other hand, leverages RFID tags to track the location of assets and inventory in real time. It can also integrate with BLE-enabled devices to track the location of people and equipment indoors. With MotionWorks, companies can improve inventory location accuracy, reduce the risk of asset loss, and optimize workflows in warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

Companies can benefit from these solutions by improving safety, reducing the risk of loss or theft, and improving inventory accuracy. BLE beacons can be used to track the location of employees or visitors in a building or facility, while RFID tags can be attached to assets or inventory to track their location and movement throughout a supply chain. By leveraging these technologies, companies can optimize workflows, allocate resources more efficiently, and improve overall business operations.

Using fleet-focused alternatives

Some fleet-focused alternatives offer real-time tracking of vehicles, helping companies optimize routes and improve productivity, while also monitoring driver behavior to enhance safety. Additionally, it can reduce operating costs by providing vehicle diagnostics and maintenance reminders, which can prevent breakdowns and prolong the lifespan of vehicles. Overall, it is a comprehensive solution that can help businesses improve fleet management, reduce costs, and enhance overall operations.

When to choose this for device tracking

  • When you need to track assets physically, without relying on only software
  • When you wish to extend protection to other devices, such as vehicles or inventory
  • When the risk to lose a device is too high and you need more than one level of protection 

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Accurate tracking and monitoring capabilities
  • Added functionality, such as inventory management and logistics tracking
  • Ability to store additional information on tags for more precise tracking
  • Low power consumption, allowing longer battery life for devices being tracked

Cons

  • Physical tracking devices act as a dead giveaway: a common target can become a prized one if tracking dongles are visible
  • Tracking is only limited to one technology; if blocked or disabled, the tracking capabilities are rendered inoperable
  • Physical tracking dongles are expensive

Mobile Device Management software with tracking

Logically, a lot of management software integrates device tracking into their toolsets. Tools such as Microsoft Intune and Jamf –leaders in the MDM industry– are increasingly interested in location capabilities, due to the rising need for location data when managing large fleets.

Mobile Device Management solutions, besides their usual features (such as provisioning, policies, etc), usually work as data sources. Through an EMM for example, both IT and Security teams are able to identify almost every aspect of a particular endpoint: networks, apps, and environments (which are hugely important in WFH contexts). In that regard, knowing where an endpoint is exactly in the world can be useful to set specific permissions to users, or to alert ahead of time of a possible security incident when a device goes off the grid.

That being said, organizations that are only looking for location may find MDMs very overwhelming, or not correctly suitable to their needs. Besides, their location capabilities aren’t as good as a dedicated device tracking solution.

Are you using Intune to manage devices? We can help you improve your location capabilities and work hand-to-hand with Intune as a second layer of security.

When to choose this for device tracking

  • When your organization or clients don’t have a Management solution and require one 
  • When dealing with large fleets of a single kind of device, such as Windows laptops or MacOS devices
  • When management and other features common to MDMs (such as provisioning, policies, inventory, app encapsulation, etc) are more important than location
  • When you only need one layer of security for a device’s life cycle

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Having a centralized solution to manage all devices, including their location
  • The added features of an MDM, MAM or EMM solution are quite useful for IT & security teams
  • Most compliance frameworks would need a management solution, so might as well get one that supports location services

Cons

  • MDMs are expensive and hard to implement
  • Location isn’t as precise as a dedicated tracking solution
  • The most widely used MDM solutions may not support a wide range of operating systems (Jamf excels in Apple devices but lacks Windows support)

Dedicated Device Tracking software

Last, but not least, there is a growing market for dedicated device tracking solutions. These are standalone solutions, that can work solo or integrated with other solutions described above (for example, an MDM for management and inventory, and a dedicated location software for precise tracking).

One advantage of using standalone software is that almost all features are better than a hybrid counterpart (such as an MDM). Dedicated apps like Prey feature active tracking and locate devices based on movement; and they usually factor one or more technologies into their location capabilities, using GPS, GEOIP, and Wifi to locate devices. And most of them are multi-OS and can handle a lot of different devices and operating systems.

Some companies and clients also choose standalone device tracking services to limit their defense surface when dealing with potential cyberattacks, effectively reducing risk when working with endpoint security software, which usually doesn’t have location capabilities.

When to choose this for device tracking

  • When your organization or clients need precise location tracking
  • When the target company already has device management software and wants to improve their location capabilities
  • When you need several layers of security for devices, especially when factoring device location into risk assessment

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Stellar accuracy: dedicated solutions are the most accurate of all
  • In most cases, standalone solutions are easy to implement and don’t interfere with other security measures like endpoint protection
  • They are usually multi-OS compatible
  • Dedicated solutions work very well in tandem with other management solutions, like an MDM or inventory software

Cons

  • The added cost of purchasing and installing additional software

Takeaways

Many industries today are in need of device tracking software, for management, inventory, or security reasons. As you may have noticed, different situations call for different tools, and we expect you can make the best choice when choosing location-related software. One key takeaway: always have in mind the needs of your organization or client before rushing to any alternative.

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