Mobile phone theft on the rise - here's how to protect your data for free

Filed Under: Android, Apple, BlackBerry, Data loss, Featured, Google, iOS, Law & order, Microsoft, Mobile, Privacy, Video

Pickpocketing a mobile phone. Image from ShutterstockResearch released today has revealed that the theft of mobile phones is on the rise.

According to research done by British insurance firm LV=, the number of phones stolen annually has risen 25 per cent in the last three years, and is costing the UK £37 million a year. Apparently, only 1% of stolen phones are ever recovered by police.

Of course, the way this hurts you in the pocket will vary depending on how flashy your mobile phone is, and what data you keep on it. Apple iPhones and the swankiest Android smartphones can easily cost hundreds of pounds, and this makes them a more attractive target for muggers and pickpockets.

But there is a deeper risk than just the monetary value of the phone's hardware - the data you keep on it.

More and more of us are accessing our personal (and sometimes corporate) email from our smartphones. You may also be using your phone to link to your social media accounts, engage in online shopping or even handling your financial affairs.

According to researchers, 59% of adults do not have any form of password protection on their phone and only a small number of people bother to log out of banking or social networking apps, making it too easy for criminals to steal information and exploit victims' identities.

Protecting your phone

Here's some advice on protecting your phone from thieves.

Firstly, be careful not to flash your expensive smartphone around. Too many people draw attention to their phones when they're out in public, or wear earphones over their clothes showing any potential thief which pocket a phone is being carried in.

iPhone passcodeSecondly, secure your phone with a PIN code (Android users typically use an equivalent swiping pattern) or a longer password - and set it to lock your phone when it hasn't been used by you for a few minutes. A permanently unlocked phone is just making life too easy for data thieves.

Of course, make sure you don't choose one of the top 10 passcodes you should never use on your iPhone.

A longer password or passphrase is a better choice.

Finding your phone

So, your cellphone is lost - how can you find it again?

Modern smartphones incorporate GPS functionality, which can help you track them down if you lose possession of them. But you have to enable this functionality before it is stolen.

iPhone users could try Apple's own "Find my iPhone" app. Similar functionality is available for Android users via apps like Sophos's free Mobile Security app.

(If you're interested in learning more about this topic, read a great article by TV news reporter Benjamin Cohen who describes the lessons he learnt after he was mugged for his iPhone.)

Wiping your phone remotely

If you think the chances of recovering your phone are remote, or your worried that someone else could access data and information about you via your lost phone, you should attempt to wipe it remotely.

Apple's "Find my iPhone" app can do this for iPhone users, Sophos Mobile Security for Android can lock or reset devices to their factory settings (effectively wiping data) in case of theft or loss.

Mobiles used by your workforce

Sophos MobileIf you are responsible for protecting mobile phone devices used by your company's workers then security will be an important issue for you - potentially you have corporate secrets at risk if a user loses a phone.

The enterprise edition of Sophos Mobile Control delivers mobile device management for business, enabling BYOD ("Bring Your Own Device to work"), managing what apps can be installed and ensuring policy compliance for all your mobile devices - whether they be iPhones, iPads, Androids, BlackBerrys or Windows Mobile devices.

Here are the highlights of Sophos Mobile Control:

  • Enforces your security policies to ensure compliance
  • Lets you turn on the built-in security features of iOS (iPhone/iPad), Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices, including password protection or any iOS encryption.
  • Ensures that only registered devices that meet your policies - i.e., not rooted (Android) or jailbroken (iOS) - have full access to corporate data and that the users of non-compliant devices are blocked or face other consequences until the situation is rectified.
  • Helps locate, lock or wipe lost devices, from the admin web console or the self-service portal.
  • The security dashboard gives you an immediate overview of your company's device status.
  • Lets you prove your corporate compliance with easy inventory and reporting tools.

Learn more and request a free trial of Sophos's enterprise mobile security, or - if you're an Android consumer - try out Sophos's free security app (aside from helping you secure your smartphone from thieves, it also protects against Android malware!).

Pickpocketing a mobile phone image from Shutterstock.

, , , , , , , , ,

You might like

15 Responses to Mobile phone theft on the rise - here's how to protect your data for free

  1. Hi Graham. What's the problem with rooted or jailbroken devices?
    I work in an IT company which has the same policy, to ban the personal devices which are not standard. But we're all IT guys and this kinda takes some fun away :-). I mean rooting the phone isn't illegal, just voids any warranty (if it's inside that period or you care about it).
    So why do you think enterprises need them blocked?

  2. John · 530 days ago

    Unfortunately once a thief powers off the phone the gps tracking no longer works. I am not sure why Apple allows you to set a password or pin on your iPhone to protect someone from accessing your phone but still allows a person to power off your phone without unlocking it.

  3. Monster11 · 530 days ago

    I was walking to town the other day and found a near new Apple 4G Iphone. It has lost its power and I have no charger. I am in NY and we are sufering through Hurricane Sany. I would love to find a way to charge to phone and find the owner. I am hoping some of you honest guyscould help me get it back to its owner.

    • Why not take it to the local police station, or the local Apple store?

      • Anonymous · 529 days ago

        Won't get a reward from the original owner if taken to a local police station or an Apple store - that's why.

  4. Balkerne · 529 days ago

    Wiping remotely or locating usually doesn't work because the knowledgeable thief knows all they have to do is remove the SIM card. Bingo. Furthermore, a friend of mine did just that after locating exactly where the phone was. Police response? Cannot help because by wiping the phone he could not prove it was his!!!!

    • mox575 · 529 days ago

      If your friend had etched his name inside the phone, say, under the battery, he would have proof.
      The SIM card removal, now that's another issue.

      • meme · 497 days ago

        yuo cant etch your name under the battery or inside an iphone, yes you can if bought online have it engraved, but that to can be etched off!

      • joe blow · 497 days ago

        You phone carrier has your mobile phone's serial number in their files.

  5. Unfortunately the Apple software "Find my iPhone" requires a Windows 7 or Mac to install the remote control software. Sorry to those XP users out there. I never saw Apple try and force a user into a WINDOWS upgrade before.

  6. Guest · 473 days ago

    I used Find my iPhone after I lost it while out shopping. It worked great, except the person who found it was already calling to return it to me.
    My daughter on the other hand had her iPhone 5 stolen and Find My iphone was useless... if the sim card is removed, if factory settings are restored, if it's out of wifi or cellular data range... none of it works. We did get the IMEI number blocked, which renders the phone useless, but she is still without her phone.

  7. AnonymousSurger · 465 days ago

    Evidently the person who found the nearly new Apple phone doesn't really care if the owner gets it back or not, more the reward it may garner. Just give the phone to the police if you care about getting the phone back to it's owner period.

  8. Zayn · 416 days ago

    With all due respects, 'Guest', i have an android phone, i can set my phone up so if the settings are factory reset, the anti theft software on the phone is reset proof, so even if the phone is factory reset, i can trace it, if the sim card is changes, i will get a notification of the new number being used...i'm not sure how iphones work but androids allow a lot of playing around...

  9. A bad app is one that does not satisfy the end users' needs. That's the definition for a developer. Any software must have a direct purpose, a precise task that it performs. Any app must have one.

  10. Anonymous · 152 days ago

    I used Find my iPhone after I lost it while out shopping. It worked great, except the person who found it was already calling to return it to me.
    My daughter on the other hand had her iPhone 5 stolen and Find My iphone was useless... if the sim card is removed, if factory settings are restored, if it's out of wifi or cellular data range... none of it works. We did get the IMEI number blocked, which renders the phone useless, but she is still without her phone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About the author

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, and veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.