Improving Anti-Theft Measures for Mobile Devices

I’m pleased to say that the latest version of the GSMA SG.24 Anti-Theft Device Feature Requirements has been published. Many members of the Device Security Group I chair at the GSMA have been personally committed to trying to reduce the problem of mobile theft over many years. This represents just one small part of these continued efforts.

There is no magic solution to the problem of mobile theft as I’ve discussed many times (some listed below). The pragmatic approach we’ve taken is to openly discuss this work with all the interested parties including OS vendors such as Apple, Google and Microsoft as well as to reach out to Police and government particularly in the US and the UK where the subject has been of high interest. We’ve taken their feedback and incorporated it into the work. Everyone has a part to play in reducing theft of mobile devices, not least the owner of the device itself.

Some extra resources:

Some previous blogs on mobile theft:

Victim blaming when it comes to fraud

I was quoted today in a Guardian article after the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe suggested that fraud victims should not be compensated by banks in cyber crime situations.

Image of what people are being conditioned to think a cyber criminal looks like! (Or perhaps I should have gone with hacker in hoodie?!)

His point is that people use weak passwords and don’t upgrade their systems so end up as easy pickings for online criminals. Whilst of course users need to take responsibility for their own actions (or inaction) it is nowhere near as simple as that, especially when it comes to things like deliberate social engineering of people and website insecurity.

My full quote was as follows: “I think the Met Chief’s comments are short-sighted. There are many reasons consumers are defrauded and a lot of those are not really things that they can control. To trivialise these to all being about user concerns misses the point. How does a consumer control the theft of their data from a website for example? We all have a role to play and a lot of work is underway in bodies like the worldwide web consortium (W3C) to reduce the use of passwords and to increase the use of hardware-backed security. The banks are doing a good job in a difficult environment but they are ultimately responsible for identifying and preventing fraud issues when they occur.”

The W3C’s work on web authentication is underway, which will standardise the work of the FIDO Alliance for the web in order to help eliminate the password. This of course will take a while and we won’t fully eliminate passwords from the web for many years. To further protect consumers, there is another effort to bring hardware security backing to important elements of the web, this will also hopefully be chartered to do that in W3C. In the software updates world, Microsoft have led the way on desktops and Apple in mobile for ensuring people are patched quickly and effectively. We still have a long way to go and I’m leading some work in the mobile industry, through the GSMA to try and make things better.

The Met and the wider police have a key role in investigating cyber crime, something they’ve not done well at all over the past few years, so they have failed consumers repeatedly. Blaming users is something akin to throwing stones in glasshouses.

Android@Home – Now I’ll hack your house (part 1)

Very exciting news from Google I/O in San Francisco. Android@Home has been announced, a logical move and one which I would wager will be highly successful. With Google TV set to emerge in homes this year and a plan by Google to merge their phone, tablet and Google TV code into one build codenamed “Ice Cream Sandwich” at the end of the year, the company seem well positioned to take on home control. Google TV offers users the ability to control their TV from their Android phone amongst plenty of other features. This basic feature, to use your phone as a remote control for the TV has been something that users have been crying out for for years, with nobody paying any real attention to it. I do remember a great program called Nevo on the iPAQ on which you could control masses of IR equipment. I gained much amusement from changing the TV in the pub and works canteen to the confusion of the staff there.

Cost, Complexity and Fragmentation

Yet home control has never really caught-on. I put this down to a number of factors (which the mobile industry is well used to hearing): fragmentation, cost and complexity. The three factors have combined so far to prevent the market maturing in any sensible way. Yes, there are home control systems out there, but they are all pretty much proprietary. I’ve been considering whether to do some home control for years but the components are over-priced and I can’t interface with them with my own software. Take the example of a remote controlled socket kit from the UK’s B&Q or the control for remote lighting . Everything needs its own remote control. We want to use our mobiles! No doubt this is true of the designers and manufacturers of these products too, which is why I think Android@Home is going to be a roaring success. Others such as Bose may continue to sell the whole integrated system, continuing to target the niche high-end market but ultimately market forces will probably force them to ditch their proprietary system.

Setting up IP cameras in your home now also involves putting some software on your PC. A lot of users have switched to much better open source solutions such as iSpy just because of the poor quality and complexity of the setup of the proprietary (or badged) PC software.

So, in summary, as a normal person I don’t want to pay loads of money, I don’t want it to be difficult to setup and I want to run everything from the same software on my mobile phone.

In part 2, I will discuss some of the uses and why security is critical.