IT | Security

Mobile Theft Requires a Global Effort

By: Absolute Team | 1/24/2014

We've shared more stories than we'd like about the increasing violence associated with mobile theft, and how any vulnerability is seen as an invitation to crime. In London, there has been a 53% increase in robberies at gunpoint related to smartphones. In San Francisco, over half of cellphone thefts in 2013 have been violent in nature (punching, kicking, intimidation) and a quarter of mobile thefts included guns or knives. Violence associated with mobile theft may be apparent at the start of an incident, but often the crimes escalate in nature when the victim attempts to hold on to the device or to get it back.

Mirroring many of our own concerns, the Huffington Post's Gerry Smith wrote up his own take on the violence associated with mobile theft, highlighting some of its more brutal crimes.

"Around the world, smartphone thefts have not only skyrocketed but have also turned increasingly violent, forcing law enforcement, government and industry officials to scramble for solutions to a modern-day global crime wave with deadly consequences. The robberies are being driven by an insatiable demand for a product worth hundreds of dollars that millions of people carelessly hold on subways and sidewalks, creating what police say is a crime of opportunity."

With security features such as passwords and blacklists doing nothing to deter crime, sometimes even encouraging further violence, we're all left scrambling to find a solution to stem this crime epidemic. Governments and law enforcement agencies are pushing for new laws (see here, here), are setting up special task forces, and creating awareness campaigns, but the crime spree continues all across the globe.

Each country is tackling mobile theft (check out some other examples in this article), but the global nature of the crime means that these efforts are coming up short. While some countries have attempted to share stolen phone blacklists, the fact that so many countries worldwide do not check these databases or share their data allows the devices to continue being shipped abroad, fuelling the demand. If a device that costs $200 can be sold for $2,000 in Hong Kong, of course it will be stolen.

What does all of this mean? It means that, if we assume that we'll never have a perfect blacklist system across the globe, we need to look at other solutions. A more comprehensive solution to mobile theft is the only answer. We need law enforcement assisted investigation, forensic collection of evidence for use in arrests and prosecution of criminals, and stronger repercussions for prolific offenders of these crimes. We need technologies that assist law enforcement, but also offer consumers protections such as data delete and device recovery - and the kill switch too, as a very last resort. And consumers need to do their part. All of this together will take value away from these stolen devices - if they can be tracked down or shut down no matter where they are around the world, what value do they have to thieves?