In 2012, an estimated 1.6 million Americans had their smartphones stolen. The thefts were particularly common in larger cities. For example, about half of the robberies reported in San Francisco included smartphones [source: Consumer Reports]. About 40 percent of the reported robberies in every major metropolitan area, including Washington, D.C. and New York City, involve the theft of smartphones [source: Metropolitan Police Dept. DC]. One proposal to slow the escalation of these crimes is the installation of a “kill switch” on all phones, allowing the phone to be rendered useless if stolen. Phone carriers have refused to adopt this, however, and the courts have not been able to put this practice into law.
So what can you do to make sure that a thief cannot get away with your phone and information?
There are multiple applications on the market that allow for GPS tracking of your phone, remote wiping of all data, and even the ability to make an alarm sound on your phone if it’s lost — even if the sound is turned off. One company offering such an app is Lookout. They offer a free product for personal users that do all of this plus scan for malware, block malicious websites, and email you the last known location of your phone before the battery died. It is like Lo-Jack for your phone. The free version covers a couple of devices, but you can get the paid version which will allow for business use and installation of many devices, as well as backup of all your contacts and pictures. The business version provides a central management interface where you can locate any device and ensure that they are not infected, exposing your internal network to infections should they connect to wireless or VPN.
While being prepared for loss or theft is always a good idea, voicing your concern to enact a law to mandate a “kill switch” as a standard is the best theft prevention plan proposed to date. The only way currently to avoid theft is awareness of your surroundings, but you can take steps to ensure you are protected from infection, to backup your information, and to recover your device should it go missing.