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Police hope to work with leading mobile phone manufacturers such as Samsung to build in the requirement for a password or PIN number as a default into new handsets, with the British police unit responsible for phone theft wanting to “target-harden” phones.
Currently, up to 60% of phones have no form of password protection, said the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit.This not only makes it easier to resell the gadgets, but hands over personal data – including, potentially GPS data showing the locations of homes, as well as passwords and banking details, according to The Register’s report.
DCI Bob Mahoney of the NMPCU said, “We are trying to get [PIN number systems and other codes] to be set as a default on new phones, so that when you purchase it you will physically have to switch the password off, rather than switch it on.”
The NMPCU said in a statement to Motherboard that PIN-protected phones were less valuable to thieves.
“We have been talking to the industry and government. This is one of the main ideas among a range of measures we are trying to push to protect personal data. All of the industry has been engaged at all levels – and government too.”
“We have intelligence that shows a phone with personal information is worth more than other mobiles, because the thief can sell it on to anyone who can make use of that info,” the DCI said.
“On an unlocked phone, you can find a person’s home address, home telephone number, their partner’s details, diary, Facebook and Twitter account. This allows thieves to know when a target is not going to be at home or perhaps use their details to set up banking loans. They could destroy a person’s life.”
We Live Security has written a guide to securing mobile devices (including tips such as ensuring screen time-outs are lowered before a PIN number is required so a thief is less likely to get access to an ‘unguarded’ handset).
PR efforts from major phone companies tend to focus on novel protection methods such as biometrics, but Get Safe Online, a government organization focused on cyber safety, said that passwords, when rolled out widely were an effective measure. “Fingerprint recognition offers a degree of safety, but there is still no substitute for a well-devised and protected password or PIN.”
Techradar said that Samsung had been in discussion with government. Mahoney said the discussions had been underway for two years and the “idea was gaining traction.”
Mahoney said, “If you have to get into the phone to switch something on, our research indicates people are less likely to do it. The industry are very supportive.”
Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security