Smartphones and Tablets Becoming More Valuable to Thieves than Wallets

By  Jeff Koonce — July 05, 2013

Talk in the enterprise is often around protecting the corporate network (and the data that lives therein) to which mobile devices connect.  But one obvious and growing danger is not always proactively managed. Smartphones and tablets are now the top target for thieves — sometimes even more so than a purse or wallet.

A rash of strong-arm thefts has swept the country.  New York, for example, ranked ninth in a list of the top 10 cities that reported the greatest numbers of phone thefts in a list put out by Yahoo Finance.  With a 40% increase in thefts in this city alone, NY Attorney General  Eric  T. Schneiderman brought attention to the problem known as “Apple Picking.”

He wrote to, and subsequently met with, representatives from Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and Google, asking for collaboration to help “minimize the economic incentives for theft,” according to a release from

Carriers have incorporated theft deterrent and faster deactivation services  and most phones have tracking capabilities built within, plus there are apps for finding the device — albeit after they are gone.  With iOS7, released this fall, Apple included a new feature called Activation Lock which is supposed to guarantee a stolen device can never be activated again.

Still, both carriers and manufacturers have been accused of not caring about this issue enough, and many legislators have proposed tougher laws and regulations on the industry.

Until then, businesses and end users alike must take precautions. Security policies around lost and stolen devices are the most basic that every company should have in place. Through MDM, enterprises should also have full visibility into where all their connected mobile devices are. Here are 5 tips around prevention and action when it comes to stolen devices.

1. Don’t leave Devices unattended.  
This is always a bad idea.  Leaving your device unattended in public creates an easy mark for opportunists and thieves alike. Whether in the company break room or the local coffee shop, anything can occur when you turn your back for a moment.

2. Know your surroundings.
Not that long ago it was safe enough to walk down the street while on your smartphone, or to read  your email while waiting for a train, but not so much anymore.  You have to be aware of your surroundings. This goes against the very nature of mobile devices, since  you want to be efficient while on the go, but attacks are becoming more brazen. One recent attack, recorded on video, showed a  woman  getting her smartphone snatched out of her hands in broad daylight.  

3. Mandate (and enforce) more complex password locks.  
Most companies mandate passwords on mobile devices, however many have not enforced the use of stronger, more complex combinations, and still only require a simple four-digit passcode.  A stronger password greatly reduces the usefulness of a stolen device because the thief can’t access  the data on it.

4. Report stolen gear.
If your device is stolen (or lost by mistake), report it to the police, your carrier and your company immediately. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile have databases for stolen phones. When reported, the device’s IMEI number is recorded so it can’t be activated again on the networks.  This program isn’t necessarily designed to recover the device, but rather to assist in eliminating the overall demand on the black market.
However, the database does not prevent thieves from shipping overseas where things can’t be traced very easily, or from redeeming quick cash for a device by depositing it into the slew of new vending machines that are popping up.

5. Use “Find My Phone” features.
The majority of smartphones have a GPS-activated tracking service that comes with the device.  Unfortunately, it’s only good if it’s actually been setup and turned on. This service greatly increases the chances of recovering  a device.  To create an even better deterrent, activate the alarm on the device that you can set off once it’s  located.


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