Police thwarted by remote wiping of tablets and phones

The BBC has reported that several UK police forces have found that evidence has evaporated into thin air after tablets and mobile phones have been remotely wiped, even after suspects have been taken into custody.

Composite image of evidence bag, phone and wipers, courtesy of ShutterstockConfirming six such incidents, a spokeswoman for Dorset police conceded that “we don’t know how people wiped them”.

But given the ease with which users can install Android apps with useful remote wipe capabilities, or simply use Apple’s own Find My iPhone service to erase a device, it’s not terribly surprising that crooks might use this to their advantage.

A spokeswoman for Derbyshire police confirmed a similar case in her borough, saying that a phone belonging to a romance scammer was remotely wiped, despite being a part of the investigation.

Luckily a conviction was still achieved.

Cleveland police also experienced a wiped phone as part of an investigation, but couldn’t comment on whether it had jeopardised the case because it simply didn’t know what was on the phone in the first place.

Other forces to experience the remote data wiping phenomenon include Cambridgeshire, Durham and Nottingham with each reporting such an incident over the last 14 months.

The BBC report noted that one way the police could circumvent remote wiping would be through the use of a device that could block radio frequencies, such as a microwave oven or Faraday cage, which would prevent the remote wipe signal from getting through to a phone or tablet.

But that solution wouldn’t work when it comes to laptops and desktops as new self-destructing drives come onto the market, such as the Autothysis 128s and 128t from SecureDrive, which can not only self-wipe on command, but can also be pre-programmed to self-destruct when certain criteria are met, such as an inability to receive a GPS signal for a defined amount of time – an event that a Faraday cage would certainly trigger.

The US is fighting to make kill switches mandatory for all new mobile phones and it’s certain that remote wiping technology is here to stay.

Police and other law enforcement are going to need to react quickly to this new form of evidence tampering.

Composite image of evidence bag and phone and wiper courtesy of Shutterstock.