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Handhelds Portables Security Hardware

Recovering a Lost or Stolen Gadget 94

gurps_npc writes "The explosion of portable electronic devices, can really weigh you down. Carrying a pager, phone, iPod, camera, and game is quite a lot. Worse, it gives you many more such things to misplace or get stolen. This CNN story discusses some of the retrieval services that help you keep what belongs to you. I particularly like the first one, about a new Singapore-based software that when you download it to your phone, messages everyone in your phone's database whenever a new chip with a new phone number is installed in the phone. This makes it very hard for someone to steal your phone as all your friends get their new phone number."
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Recovering a Lost or Stolen Gadget

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  • So... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tuoqui ( 1091447 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:23AM (#19699605) Journal
    what is stopping anyone from deleting all the friends in the phone's list before they switch the chip? Or as I thought, doesn't the chip hold all that information on it (at least for SIM cards)
    • Agreed -- not everyone steals a phone in order to "claim it," but rather to use it for some deals or whatever, then strip the chip out if they figure it's sellable. Plenty of time for them to simply wipe the memory of the thing.

      However, not all people store contacts to the SIM card. I know I've always stored contacts on the phone itself, mostly so I can assign home/work/cell icons to classify people AND use the phone's speed dial w/o needing to press 4 digits. Pressing #1 is a lot easier than #6122. A
    • Nothing at all. While the software is a pretty good idea, it's only going to work so long as theives aren't aware of its existance.
  • when I'm not near it. RFID?
    • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:27AM (#19699647)
      A small remote-controlled explosive charge would do the trick, just enough to remove the skin from the offender's hand and maybe break a few fingers. And, if he happens to have the thing in his pocket at the time, if nothing else he'll have trouble reproducing, which will help keep the population of phone thieves down.
      • by moranar ( 632206 )
        Wounding people would mean that you (or other taxpayers) would pay for their recovery while in hospital. Plus, the expenses for jailing them afterwards are always a concern.
        Plus, there's always that famous case in which the judge filed in favor of the burglar who'd hurt himself while robbing a house. Do you really want that?
        Either don't do it at all or do the job correctly and put the thieves out of their misery. (yes, it's a joke)
        • Either don't do it at all or do the job correctly and put the thieves out of their misery. (yes, it's a joke)

          Well, apparently you thought I was being serious about putting bombs in cell phones to begin with, so I guess I can take your post seriously too if I want, so there.
          • by moranar ( 632206 )
            It is possible to respond to a joke with another.
            I'm sure you'd have gotten the humor, disclaimer or not. But in this age, I prefer to make myself extremely clear that I'm joking and not in fact advocating murder. You never know which dumbass is going to trawl google or /. for controversy.
      • by mrmeval ( 662166 )
        Eh, that'd bring down the arsonists from batfuckers. A small thermite charge would do. ;)
      • Good idea! you start working on that, and I'll start on the detonate-all-devices-remotely-hack-thingy.
    • Bluetooth (Score:4, Interesting)

      by nanosquid ( 1074949 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @12:08PM (#19699951)
      There are various Bluetooth presence software add-ons that will lock your laptop, cell phone, PDA, etc. when it's out of range.
    • I have that capability...for my Treo.

      I run a commercial add-on program for the Treo called Butler ( It performs a wide array of tasks including one special one - lock the phone and destroy the phone's data.

      How it works - I can send one of four different SMS messages to the phone containing a preselected (by me) password and an instruction, directing the phone to perform one of the following actions:

      - Lock & Turn off
      - Wipe Ram , lock and turn off
      - Wipe S
  • by dalmiroy2k ( 768278 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:24AM (#19699623)
    Software solutions/Dial home won't do it. Any respectable thief will instantly power off the device, put it in a metal briefcase, then when he is in a secure location will format/restore to default the stolen device in a matter of minutes and then sell it to the black market.

    • by morari ( 1080535 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:31AM (#19699671) Journal
      I somehow doubt that guys walking around randomly stealing cell phones on the street are "respectable thieves". More likely they're of average or below average intellect and are doing the occasional, petty crime purely for their direct, personal, immediate benefit with no grander thoughts whatsoever.
    • Eh no (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:55AM (#19699847)
      You give the thieves far too much credit. Your average thief is even dumber than your average person.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by billcopc ( 196330 )
      You and I may be clever and technically-inclined, but we are not thieves. The petty thief is no smarter than the average inbred. If they had any brains they'd be putting their efforts into the far more profitable field of white-collar crime. Why risk a criminal record and possible jail time for a small electronic gadget that's hardly worth anything in the used market ? Used phones have little value because they're crappy little taiwanese gadgets that simply aren't built to last.

      I consider myself lucky i
    • by AusIV ( 950840 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @12:22PM (#19700053)
      I put my money on the non-respectable thieves. I have a laptop that I take every where with me. I keep it close, and I have a lock for it when I leave it unattended (usually just in my apartment). But on the off chance that it ever gets stolen, I also have a daemon installed that will register it's IP address with a remote server as soon as it finds it has a new IP address. While I hope it never comes down to it, I suspect it would be much easier to track down my laptop if it ever got stolen than it would be if I weren't running that daemon.

      A "respectable thief" would boot with a Live CD to collect my personal information before formatting the drive, but a typical thief would more likely just boot it up.

      Like I say, I keep my laptop close, and lock it up when I can't, but I feel a bit more secure knowing my laptop phones home.

      • Like I say, I keep my laptop close, and lock it up when I can't, but I feel a bit more secure knowing my laptop phones home.
        I can't imagine why. Even a luddite thief will be able to keep your laptop off the net, and once they see you're running Linux, you can expect a "liveCD" style wipe. The one who would actually care about your personal info -- a sophisticated identity thief -- is even less likely to try and connect online.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AusIV ( 950840 )
          Ever heard of Lojack for laptops []? It works on the same basic principle, and increases the chances of your laptop being returned from about 3% to about 75%. My method doesn't have a team to follow up, but I'd have more evidence for taking action.
      • I was thinking about adding a script that would do all these network operations... But I have a power-on password on my laptop, as well as one for my OS account.

        Take into account the fact that a dumb person can't override the power-on password, it means that they'll probably pass the computer to someone who has the skills to remove/reset it, and the brains to understand that the safest thing to do is to wipe the system. I have never seen a person who connects a computer to the internet, this being the first
        • I conclude that either these phone-home scripts are useless, or we should redefine the best practices of security and remove power-on and user account passwords from the list, so that the phone-home script actually gets a chance to connect somewhere.

          Agreed. Most thieves are lazy, opportunistic, and not particularly bright. If you completely lock down your laptop to keep anyone from using it, then your data will be safe, but you'll never get the laptop back. The thief will be forced to sell it to someone

        • I have never seen a person who connects a computer to the internet, this being the first thing they do with it once they get it.

          In college, there were a couple of idiots that got busted for stealing lab computers, because they were dumb enough hooked up the computers up to the LAN in their dorm room. Since the school tracks access to the network through MAC addresses, and knows the physical location of each port in the dorms, they busted the theives within minutes of them hooking up the computers. You ca
      • You do realize that in most bioses you can disable cd booting and require a password to change any bios settings, correct? Its one extra level of protection, they will have a much harder time installing a new OS. They could still swap hard drives, but it becomes much more of a pain for the thief to do so and less likely that they will even bother.
    • Software solutions/Dial home won't do it.

      If you build your own ROMs for your phone you can install some interesting software that persists. For example, you can install a text-sending application on MS phones that will send the SIM details to a predefined number whenever it changes from a pre-approved sim number. As this is in the base ROM it survives a hard-reset. Sure, you could reflash it, but unless the thief knows the platform well and has software development experience then that isn't going to hap

    • Samsung has launched a complete series of phones in India, in which as soon as a new chip is inserted (one other than the original, registered chip), the phone sends an SMS to 2 preset numbers.
      This would mean that if your phone is lost, it can not be used without you knowing
      • the new number,
      • the new location (if you have filed a complaint i.e.) and
      • the identity of the new owner (from the phone company).

      The only flaw in the system is that if the thief dismantles the phone and sells the parts for spares/r

  • StuffBak (Score:3, Informative)

    by eck011219 ( 851729 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:25AM (#19699633)
    I use StuffBak myself (they're mentioned in TFA). Haven't had to use it yet, but their website is a snap to use and their labels are very affordable.
    • by danep ( 936124 )
      I'm sorry, but what's wrong with just scribbling your phone / email on the device in magic marker? I mean if whoever "finds" it is a good samaritan, they'll return it regardless of how pretty the label looks, and if they're not a good samaritan, you're pretty much stuffed anyway. But magic marker would be a hell of a lot tougher for a thief to remove than a little old label.
      • Actually, the labels are those metal super-adhesive things that are also used in schools for AV equipment. There's no getting this thing off, whereas a little bit of Bestine (or some other solvent) takes permanent marker right off plastic. Moreover, it can be anonymous, so if they impulsively steal something and then can't use it (a password protected PC, for example, they can go through StuffBak with no fear of prosecution (if you want it that way). You can also offer rewards. Basically, it makes the whole
  • Ooops (Score:5, Funny)

    by also-rr ( 980579 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:29AM (#19699657) Homepage
    I seem to have lost my gadget for finding lost or stolen gadgets. I wonder where I left it? All I need to do is find my gadget for finding lost or stolen gadgets and then...

    • by jovius ( 974690 )
      I actually would like to have all the things fitted with rfid tags.. It would then be a relatively simple task to track all the things in your house in 3-D.. and other people's things too perhaps, but the visualization part would be neat :)
    • by Footix ( 972079 )
      Well that's no problem, you can just use your gadget for finding lost or stolen gadgets for finding lost or stolen gadgets.
    • Actually, all that I have to do is to find YOUR gadget for finding lost gadgets.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @11:45AM (#19699771) Homepage
    I buy replacement and loss insurance on all my expensive items I also encrypt all important data. (cellphone requires a pin password to turn it on or use it)

    If someone steals my PDA, they wont get the data as it's safe, and I get a brand new PDA. works great.

    I just wish the security in PDA's were decent so that after 3 attempts it locks the PDA and will not unlock until it is resynched in the cradle of the mated PC. Palm and Windows pocket devices can be reset and sold. Phones are 100% useless on the black market (you do report and have your esn blacklisted with your cellphone company right?) PDA's should have the same kind of protection available.

    • by Kopiok ( 898028 )
      It's not so much them not being able to access your data after it's stolen, it's you being able to access your data. I haven't exactly memorized every number on my contacts list.
      • Then buy a phone you can sync to your address book on your computer. I carry around one of the most expensive phones on the market right now (Nokia N95, yes, even more expensive than an iPhone), but one of the main selling points for me was the phones ability to sync contacts, calendars, photos, etc on my Mac & PC just like an iPhone, Treo, and Windows Mobile phones. Hell it's syncing works better imo than all the others with the iPhone being the exception. Even if someone were to steal my phone, it'd b
    • by mosch ( 204 )
      That's a very good solution, assuming you hate money, are extraordinarily careless, or you plan to commit large amounts of insurance fraud.

      If one of those isn't true, you'd be better off skipping the insurance, and just replacing the stuff yourself, occasionally.
  • The only gadget that I carry is my cell phone. To simplify things even further, I use my cell phone only as a phone. What's wrong with being boring, unsexy and non-techo?
  • by floki ( 48060 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @12:08PM (#19699953)

    iAlertU is definitely the coolest way to keep your MacBook (Pro) from being stolen. You can turn it on with your remote control like you do with your car keys. It even features the familiar car locking and unlocking sound. When someone grabs your notebook the fall sensor normally used to shut down your hard disk when a fall is detected activates, the screen starts flashing and an alarm siren goes off. It even snaps a photo of the thief with the built-in iSight webcam and emails it to a predefined address.

    Be sure to check out the YouTube video of the software in action []. It really made me laugh just because of the sounds. Can't wait to try that out in my university library :-)

    • Unfortunately, unlike cars, MacBooks have an easy-to-reach Power Button which, when pressed for five seconds, switches off about every software-based alarm system.

      • by norton_I ( 64015 )
        At least on my dell (not sure how Macs handle this), the power button generates an ACPI event when the power button is pressed, not released. Thus, you could have a software alarm go off for 5 seconds while the would be thief is holding the power button down. Likewise, you can lift up the laptop and pop out the battery, but that probably sets of the alarm first.

        For someone worried about a someone grabbing their laptop when they are getting a refill on their coffee, the motion sensor alarm should work pret
      • They also have headphone jacks, which, when you plug in headphones into it, turns off the built-in speakers.
        • Never mind, apparently the speakers don't get turned off after all when using newer versions of the program. Apparenty that behaviour is even hackable from the software side, which is neat.

    • by vidarh ( 309115 )
      I think I'd gone for a metallic voice screaming "Help me! I'm being stolen! I'm scared he'll hurt me.... Stop the thief!" or something like that rather than the siren...
    • I tried using iAlertU at work but it seemed to attract attention to my MBP rather than protect. My coworkers set the alarm off on purpose. They'd ask me to enable and disable the alarm for new people who had not seen the software in action. I finally got fed up and just bought a kick-ass laptop lock. Now I just physically lock up the laptop and lock the screensaver. Seems to work better and draw less attention to my pod in the farm.
  • flawed thinking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @12:37PM (#19700139)
    This makes it very hard for someone to steal your phone as all your friends get their new phone number."

    I believe most theives steal goods to sell them on, rather than to use them themselves.
    In that case, so long as they can get ca$h for your goodies, they won't care who has the number after they've flogged it off. It's not as if they will offer a guarantee, or after-sales service.

    The only real solutions are to prevent items being stolen, or to make it blindingly obvious to a potential buyer that the item is non-functional

  • If only I had known about this before my phone was stolen. :(

    I think FlexiSPY [] is a whole lot cooler, though.

  • by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @01:03PM (#19700271) Homepage
    My buddy got robbed yesterday, we didn't believe him at first because he still had his wallet, but then he showed us there was nothing in the wallet & then showed us his new iPhone.
  • What kind of idiotic thief doesn't do a hard reset on the phone they stole, thereby erasing any counter-measure type software?
  • "The explosion of portable electronic devices, can really weigh you down. .... This CNN story discusses some of the retrieval services that help you keep what belongs to you.
    That would be quite an effective method. You just follow the news helicopters to the site. The device may not survive, but at least it will give the bad guy a good lessson.
  • Trackitback and Stuffback stickers are available pretty cheaply. There are still good people out there that will return your items - if they can. These labels just give them an easy way to do it.

    Then again, it's good to always assume your mobile device will be lost and treat the data on it as publicly accessible - always.

    *Encrypt the files with sensitive info.
    *Enable password protection - using a real password, not a nancy-boy pin number.
    *Keep cellphone service numbers on a card in your wallet so you can ca
  • I have an even easier solution - I don't carry a ton of expensive gadgetry about my person on a daily basis.
    When I do carry expensive gadgetry about (usually only when geocaching) I do as I was taught as a kid - the gadget is either in use, or it's where it belongs. (I.E. in the appropriate belt pouch with the closure fastened.) I never lay stuff down for 'just a moment'.
  • Technology: The case of the novelist's car-phone

    * 02 March 1991
    * Magazine issue 1758

    The British police could catch many more car thieves than they do now by using the cellular phone networks to trace cellphones installed in stolen cars. But the police rarely take advantage of this and most officers seem unaware that the facility even exists - even though more than a million people in Britain now have cellular p
    • by triso ( 67491 )

      ...This problem was highlighted recently when the novelist Margaret Drabble had her car stolen from outside her home in Hampstead, North London. Her husband, historian Michael Holroyd, tried phoning the mobile phone in the car. A man answered, and said to Holroyd: 'I'm the thief who has stolen your car. Piss off!'...

      Well! He should have said, "I saw your ad in the paper; is your car still for sale?" Most thieves are too greedy to resist that.

  • My wife... will never recover from her stolen USB powered vibrator.

    God may revenge her pain!
  • When my iPod was stolen (with my name engraved on the back), the sheriff recovered it from the booty of a couple of teenagers who had gone on a spree. They were in a different jurisdiction, so my police report was not on file with them. But a deputy called Apple, who called me with the case number. I was reunited with my iPod the next day.... And we lived happily ever after (once I paid the $65 for a new battery). The End.
  • I particularly like the first one, about a new Singapore-based software that when you download it to your phone, messages everyone in your phone's database whenever a new chip with a new phone number is installed in the phone. This makes it very hard for someone to steal your phone as all your friends get their new phone number."

    It might appear hard to get around this security feature, but it is quite easy if the thief knows just a bit about phones and/or physics. Here is the two most obvious ones, besides removing the software while the phone is still turned on.

    - Use a SIM test card, that will at most allow the phone to dial an emergency service, but still allowing full access to the phone and the removal of the software.
    - Stuff the phone into a Faraday cage (an antistatic bag is enough for this) and then remove the security soft

  • I, for one, am much more worried about important, but not-sensitive stuff (things like the keys to your house: you need to have them safe, but if somebody finds them, it's no big deal. Nobody would try every key in every house in the city to beat the odds of finding the right one). I'd like some kind of radio-based detector (RFID, maybe) that helps me keep track of those annoying, easy-to-lose items.

    Alternatively, we could just wait until Google is so all-knowing that we could just type "my keys" into it, a
  • With the dependency that people have on gadgets and gizmos, it is a wonder how humanity even managed to exist without it.

    There is a gadget for everything a person could possibly need, except one to take a shit for them.

    I don't have a cell phone, don't have in-dash navigation, GPS, digital camera, digital video camera, webcam, a PDA, a PSP/Nintendo DS, an IPod/MP3 player, portable DVD player, push-free vaccuum, hands-free telephone, etc., yet I can still function just as well as anybody else, if not better,
    • "There is a gadget for everything a person could possibly need, except one to take a shit for them."

      What about the iPoo?
  • And I'm sure they use it in other countries, but this I discovered on my last trip there (almost 1+years now). This phone had 2 parts, one part that was kept with you, either on a key chain or, as I saw with one girl, sewn into your pocketbook/book bag, and the other was in the phone itself. When these 2 objects were more than 100ft away from each other you couldn't even turn the phone on. And yeah I know someone already suggested RFID, but I felt the need to share my story as well lol.

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken