We've all been there – wherever there is. Those times we find ourselves away from home, on a business trip, or vacation, or just lost and too proud to ask for directions. We're somewhere we've never been before, looking for a street name or an address or a recognizable landmark to know where we are. If you've ever tried to navigate your way through an unfamiliar place, at some point, you've probably relied on a map app on your smartphone – such as Google Maps – to guide you to your destination.
Google Maps, like most map apps, uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to identify approximate location and thus help show where you are in the world. It does this by leveraging an ever-expanding network of satellites in space high above us – GPS satellites traveling ~ 9,000 miles per hour (~14.5K kilometers), orbiting ~12,000 miles (~20K kilometers) above wherever you're standing. Satellites move so fast that their time actually moves slightly faster in space than it does for us on Earth – about 35-40 microseconds per day faster. This time difference aligns with Einstein's general theory of relativity.
Though the time difference is small, it must be accounted for: otherwise the differences between where the satellites think you are, and where you actually are, get out of sync – by as much as 5 to 6 miles in a single day. That difference could accidentally walk you off a long pier into the ocean, over a cliff at the Grand Canyon, or leave you standing in the middle of the Los Angeles freeway ...
... or, in mobile banking terms, even a minor time difference could allow a fraudster to intercept and reroute a financial transaction done on your mobile app to his or her own account. This underscores why, much like map apps, the entire global financial system also depends on and benefits from GPS.
As the banking industry moves toward fully real-time solutions, with millisecond response times and immediate access to funds, precise time becomes vital. As banks continue to pursue modernization of batch-based, memo-post core solutions – which tended to use the server time for transactional timestamps – those date and time stamps, as well as location stamps, become the most important pieces of data the solutions maintain with a transaction.
GPS is globally available, can be checked from anywhere, and is free for everyone to use – including banks and their mobile banking solutions. Cell towers use GPS signals to place phone activity; ATMs and cash registers use GPS data for transactions; and stock exchanges use GPS to regulate the trades that go into stock portfolios and investment funds.
GPS technology not only identifies positioning; it can be used to ensure systems all over the world agree on the exact time.
When you withdraw cash from an ATM or swipe your card or wearable at a store, the underlying systems need to determine (and agree upon) the exact time that the transaction occurs, for example, to prevent accounts from being overdrawn. Precise time is critical given the vast amounts of financial information transmitted and transactions executed, around the clock and around the world. In this digital world, money moves fast – to and from anywhere. Banks need reliably precise timestamps to monitor transactions, catch fraud, and ensure the money ends up in the proper hands.
Furthermore, the satellite signals also help detect the legitimacy of account activity. In addition to the timestamp, each transaction also has a place stamp. This provides added security in mobile banking as it indicates the plausibility of the user's location. If a card is being used in two different places at the same time – especially two locations with significant distance between them – this can be flagged as possible fraud and worth investigation.
As a financial institution, questions to consider include: Are your solutions' audit trails accurate from all channels and points of sale? Are the date, time and location accurately stamped on every transaction? What time is being used – GPS, your mainframe server, other? Is it consistent across the enterprise? Is the fraud monitoring you are doing today evolving as fast as the rest of the world? What business continuity plans are you relying upon if there's any disruption? And most of all, are you including GPS in the evolution of your technology stack?
We'll delve further into banking-related GPS considerations in an upcoming blog.