In today’s interconnected world, losing a mobile phone and all its valuable content is a terrifying experience. Aside from being separated from a device we rely on for many daily functions, victims of phone theft typically lose loads of sensitive personal data. Subsequent exposure to fraud and identity theft often leads to disastrous financial repercussions.
“Mobile phone theft is something of a national epidemic,” said Jason Hope, technology expert, “Data from the FCC has shown that one in three robberies involves a cell phone. This makes smartphone owners particularly vulnerable. But while we can’t guarantee our safety, we can take steps to prevent critical data from falling into the wrong hands.”
Let’s examine some savvy methods for protecting mobile phone and tablet data.
Smart Consumer behavior
Maintaining situational awareness is one of the easiest ways for mobile owners to protect themselves from theft. Phone or tablet owners should always take an inventory of their surroundings before using a phone. Those in a dangerous or unfamiliar area would do well to keep the device out of sight. Owners can also minimize crimes of opportunity by refraining from leaving phones sitting on tables or other public areas. Additionally, phone owners should take advantage of all the technical resources at their disposal. This means built-in anti-theft protection, third-party anti-theft or data protection apps from trusted sources and a smart password policy. Passwords should not be universal for different accounts and be suitably difficult to crack by normal means. Consumers should also make a point of backing up all valuable data should the worst occur. Doing so can save hours and hours of headaches down the line. Remote wiping is another great feature to employ, if the device has that capability.
While much of the onus is on the consumer, phone manufacturers have started to emphasize anti-theft measures to a greater degree. Apple has long been at the forefront of phone and tablet security, allowing owners to disable and then track their stolen devices via its “find my phone” option. Samsung, too, has received plaudits for its efforts to improve security. The new Galaxy S5 has a feature that allows owners to track stolen devices. It has another feature that prevents devices from being reset without owner authentication. These steps — which still must be activated by phone owners – should make stealing these phones significantly less lucrative.
These moves by manufacturers come at a time of rising pressure from political leaders. California legislators recently introduced a bill that would require anti-theft measures such as a kill switch be included on all devices sold or shipped in the state. Other state legislatures are considering doing the same. The subject has even reached the U.S. Senate, where the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act was introduced in February. The bill would mandate installation of a kill switch on new mobile devices.
Some industry insiders have argued against mandatory kill switches, claiming they may have the unintended effect of leaving mobile devices vulnerable to hackers. Industry lobbyists also point out that kill switches would render the user’s phone permanently “bricked” and unable to be used. There are other, less permanent options available, including using electronic serial numbers and GPS to track down thieves. Although what form it may take isn’t clear, political pressure will likely result in legislation being passed at the state and possibly the federal level in the coming year.
Phone theft has exploded in recent years, and the trend doesn’t appear to be abating any time soon. The FCC has estimated mobile phone thefts cost the U.S. some $30 billion in 2012 alone. Mr. Hope (https://www.facebook.com/jason.r.hope) advises, “While there’s no such thing as a theft-proof device, consumers can minimize the risk they face by taking some smart steps to protect their data.” With political pressure ratcheting up, it’s likely manufacturers will continue to offer new technological solutions to the problem, rendering stolen phones and tablets far less valuable on the black market. With the combined effort of these two approaches, mobile theft may eventually taper off from its current epidemic-level proportions.
About Author: Amy Taylor is a business and technology writer. Amy began her career as a small business owner in Phoenix, AZ. She enjoys writing about business technology trends. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking with her Alaskan Malamute, Sam.