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Cellphones Crime Android Iphone Security Stats

Do Kill Switches Deter Cellphone Theft? (arstechnica.com) 97

evolutionary shares an article from Ars Technica: San Francisco's district attorney says that a California state law mandating "theft-deterring technological solutions" for smartphones has resulted in a precipitous drop in such robberies. Those measures primarily include a remote kill switch after a phone has been stolen that would allow a phone to be disabled, withstanding even a hard reset. Such a kill switch has become standard in all iPhones ("Activation Lock") and Android phones ("Device Protection") since 2015... When measured from the peak in 2013, "overall robberies involving smartphones have declined an astonishing 50 percent... Because of this hard-fought legislation, stealing a smartphone is no longer worth the trouble, and that means the devices we use every day no longer make us targets for violent crime."
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Do Kill Switches Deter Cellphone Theft?

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  • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @04:44PM (#54905831) Homepage

    You can use pretty much every component in a stolen iPhone except for the logic board and touchID sensor (which is paired with the logic board).

    So stolen phones are still valuable because you can sell the parts, especially the screens which are the most common component to need replacement since there's so many klutzes out there.

    On one hand, pairing the screen and other components with the logic board in a way that only the manufacturer can, like the Touch ID sensor, would solve this problem. On the other, servicing our own devices will become even harder if they do this.

    It's a trade-off. It's good that features like activation lock have reduced theft so much though.

    • stolen phones are still valuable because you can sell the parts

      Fair enough. Same as cars.

      Still a good idea to make stolen ones harder to register though.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        What happens is you hugely limit the market. For the majority willing to buy stolen stuff, parts are of no use and only a tiny minority are in a position to buy as parts to use in their business and it makes it much easier to monitor, investigate and prosecute those that do. It would likely be better that devices are not bricked but rather flagged. So device stolen, device flagged, some one uses the device, than police and the device and the person using the device are brought together. The police can then

        • by torkus ( 1133985 )

          In theory, it would be good to flag and make each lost or stolen phone subject of a police investigation.

          In reality, this alone would overwhelm pretty much all the police departments everywhere and effectively zero would be investigated. This would give thieves impunity and defeat the purpose of the (substantial) investment in tracking/investigative infrastructure. Sometimes the simpler approach is the better one.

      • by sl149q ( 1537343 )

        Stolen phones are worth something for parts.

        It's just that they are worth far less when sold for parts than sold as a working phone.

        The value proposition in stealing a phone that can be resold as a working phone is much better than stealing a phone that can only be sold for parts. So there is (now) much less incentive to stealing phones. Yes, you can get something for them. But much less, so many thieves will look for something else which pays better for the risk.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I do agree with this. Buying and reselling cell phones as a gestalt have been lowered because of this, especially with both activation locks and IMEI blocks.

      However, the same thing has happened with bicycles. In the past, a stolen bike was just sold in the same city. Then serial numbers started being tracked, so the bikes wound up either just being parted out or sold in a different city, as prospective buyers tend to not really want to check a serial number if they can buy a nice new fiberglass road bike

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Sunday July 30, 2017 @04:28AM (#54907779)

        If someone steals phones, lets the battery drain in Faraday cage bag, then parts them out, they will still make some decent cash. A 100% Apple touch screen still goes for a C-note or two. A finger print scanner or other items are not cheap either. Android stuff can go into a parts bag and be useful here and there.

        The problem is "decent operation". Once you're into this, the costs go up significantly, and the price for an Apple screen isn't that high (if you have protection, it's $50, and many street sellers do it for very low cost).

        A single person on the street isn't likely to be that - you'd have to recruit an army of them. And once it happens, the exposure goes way up and annoying law-enforcement type people start poking their heads around.

        Draining the battery does no good, either - Apple phones will re-lock if you try to reflash the OS - part of the activation process is to enter in the owner's apple ID and password. (This has hurt the resale value if people forget to unlock the phone prior to sale).

        Heck, most people already are wary of buying stolen phones. I remember a few years back a kid was trying to sell 4-5 phones, most likely stolen. Kid was still there hours later trying to fence them, and all that happened in the end was he threw them against a wall and smashed them, wasting a whole day trying to sell it so he might as well have fun with it.

    • by Cyberax ( 705495 )
      iPhones don't have that many replaceable and expensive components. You basically have the phone body and screen, everything else is too cheap to bother. And the phone screen is $79 new, so you're looking for at most $10-15 for the thief, too little to bother.
      • by rworne ( 538610 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @08:00PM (#54906559) Homepage

        Thieves will smash a car window to get a few coins in a car's cupholder.

        There's no amount that's too little for them.

        • There's no amount that's too little for them.

          Not all thieves! If you can implement policy that will discourage half of the thieves, why not do that? For example, in Latvia kill switches were implemented at cell operator level about 15 years ago and it did reduce phone thefts significantly.

          Thieves will smash a car window to get a few coins in a car's cupholder.

          Coins are real money, phones can (maybe) be sold for real money. Selling things is real work.

    • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@@@poetic...com> on Saturday July 29, 2017 @09:22PM (#54906775)

      Right. I'm trying to imagine a horde of meth users carefully disassembling a smartphone in a dark alley using a rusty pliers and a can opener. My imagination isn't quite up to the challenge. Yours?

    • Kinda reminds me of the 1980s when people were stealing the logo from the front of Hondas. Owners would go to the dealer to get a replacement and balk when they found out it cost an outrageous amount. Eventually they'd hear from their friend that he knew someone who knew someone who could get a replacement for cheap. That person would steal the Honda logo from another car, thereby continuing a self-perpetuating stolen goods market.

      (In case the point is not clear, the key to reducing theft for parts is
    • But for the effort of stealing a phone then taking all the parts out and trying to sell them in good condition. You might as well go legit and make more money as being an electronic reseller, by buying the components at bulk and selling them for individuals with a markup.

      Stealing a cell phone was a quick way to make a buck, even without personal information. Steal an iPhone and sell it for $100 quick cash. But if it doesn't work then people will not buy it.

      • by torkus ( 1133985 )

        Criminals typically don't do the cost-benefit analysis and decide to go legit.

        Criminals are (typically) not nearly as smart as they think they are either. It 'makes sense' to steal 2-3 phones a day which someone will flip for $50 cash in bulk for you when the prospect of an actual job is abhorrent to your lifestyle.

        The same logic chain is what drives many people to rob gas stations and convenience stores despite the low return and fairly high rate of arrest.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      This guy made his own iPhone from spare parts he could buy from trading shops in Shenzen.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • You can use pretty much every component in a stolen iPhone except for the logic board and touchID sensor (which is paired with the logic board).

      So stolen phones are still valuable because you can sell the parts...

      People know how to strip phones for resale about as much as they know how to strip cars for resale. There's still a very small risk that you'll be targeted by someone who holds these skills. If this could be done by anyone, we probably would have not seen a reduction in phone thefts based on software-based protections.

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @04:45PM (#54905843)
    My used cell phone suddenly stopped working.
  • The connection is obvious, but the announcement was pathetically weak. See here for the actual page from the district attorney: http://sfdistrictattorney.org/... [sfdistrictattorney.org]

    To show a kindergarten bar chart from 2015 to 2016 as the data behind that claim is pretty pathetic. I mean, cmon, the main claim is that crime decreased from 2013 when these tools became available, and they show only 2015 and 2016 data, which by the way, shows crime increasing or at best, variable during this period?

    What summer intern put together this press release?

    All I would trust this data to say is that no one wants LG, HTC, and Motorola phones...
  • by rholtzjr ( 928771 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @04:53PM (#54905869) Journal
    I have opted for one of my own. Most people take a look at my phone and say "Holy Crap, what is a Motorola Razor and why does it flip open like a Star Trek communicator? What are you, in the 20th century still?". Hey, problem solved.
    • ...Motorola Razor [...] flips open like a Star Trek communicator?

      Where can I get one?!

      • I've got a Startac or a V500 somewhere.

        I owned both but one got taffed.

      • You know, if you could mod it to make that electronic chirping sound when you did flip it open... I bet a lot of people would buy it.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You can buy a Star Trek Communicator handset today. Uses Bluetooth because the FCC won't license the subspace spectrum. Sometimes about whales.

          I'm waiting for the Borg headset myself.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      Would not be much use since they shut down all the 2G networks here.
      I see AT&T has closed theirs in the US, so you may need to upgrade soon.

    • Android Flip Phones are again available. I'm considering this for one of the two phones i carry as it's easier to differentiate. Also like being able to position the mic closer. A physical keyboard is MUCH better for numeric keypunch entry. https://www.cnet.com/news/sams... [cnet.com] What I am ALWAYS scanning for is a modern Android keyboard phone. Because I won't use an NSA-Berry.
  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @04:54PM (#54905873)

    When measured from the peak in 2013, "overall robberies involving smartphones have declined an astonishing 50 percent...

    In my little world these include cellphone attributes that have made them cheaper and therefore more available: -

    1: More powerful but cheaper at the same time

    2: More varied especially in the Android world

    3: No longer *the gadget* to have, i.e. They aren't a status symbol anymore. Heck, you can finance an iPhone at 0% at WalMart!

  • No, the "kill switch" idea is as silly as the "smart gun" idea, thieves will not give a shit and hackers will defeat the kill switches anyway.

    Yet another idea from someone who doesn't understand the technology.

    • The kill switch was first widely implemented by Apple on their own phones prior to any law,
      There were some reported vunerabiities found in 2014, which were since patched and I haven't heard of any exploits since.

      Granted politicians have a habit of passing laws without any understanding of technology or implementation, but this was already a proven solution when the law was passed.
      Maybe there are some underground hacks, but I don't think they'll be easily available to the kind of people who feel they have to

    • by torkus ( 1133985 )

      First off, your logic is utterly flawed. A kill switch is only used as an intentional measure after the device has been lost/stolen/etc. and otherwise the device operates completely normally. A 'smart gun' is intended to prevent the normal function unless a special condition is met (RFID/fingerprint/etc.) and so defaults to a 'broken' state.

      Completely opposite behaviors.

      The kill switch on phones has been working quite well the last few years...and if you don't lose your phone it's effectively transparent.

  • The law went into effect summer of 2015. IPhone activation lock was in IOS 7, fall of 2013.

    Political jerks should stop taking credit for things they have nothing to do with.

    Android finally got the feature in 5.0/5.1, late 2014/early 2015. So maybe the law prevented a few cheap phones from getting older versions that summer.

    Bottom line: the feature probably prevents thefts. The law doesn't do much of anything.

    • It's still potentially lucrative to get an Android, many run ancient versions, think 4.4 and 5 on models sold this year. Many Androids also don't actually have a kill switch, the software may lock the device but the device does not have encryption or chip support for it so reflashing the thing is enough.

      I think the main thing is that the devices lose resale value fast, half of them will indeed lock out but you can get a pretty recent processor for $200 from Xiaomi which has the same guts as a $500 Samsung,

  • by Known Nutter ( 988758 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @05:13PM (#54905951)
    In the SF Bay Area -- as many here know -- the local media has been covering a recent uptick in electronic device theft (iPhones and iPads of course) on BART. TFS is reporting these types of thefts are down, but not on BART [abc7news.com].

    I hate to be "that guy", but for fucks sakes, put the fucking thing away when you're on BART (or any public transit) and pay attention to your surroundings. Why do we have to tell people this? Many of these thefts are grab and dash right when the doors are about to close. That nimrod standing right by the door, headphones on, staring at the screen..? You're a mark.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do Kill Switches matter at all to people who steal phones and sell them on the street?

    The answer is: no. They don't care about that, they only care about their next fix for the day which comes at the price of a few stolen phones.

    The real question is: Why don't we help addicts instead of turning them in to hopeless thieves? The answer by most Americans is: This the American way! You reap what you sow, morons.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Why don't we help addicts

      They don't want help.

      Actually, they do. But any help that comes with the condition "and eventually you won't need drugs anymore" is turned down.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        The thing is, addiction isn't the real problem. After WWI there were a lot of involuntary heroin addicts that went on to have a more or less normal and productive life even while never kicking the addiction.

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Saturday July 29, 2017 @06:57PM (#54906323) Journal

    Phone companies were partners in the thefts. They had the customers on the hook for the rest of their contract, and they'd dutifully buy another phone.

    Meanwhile, the stolen phone must sign up with someone, often that very same carrier. So they in effect get the robbed customer to subsidize a second new customer for them.

  • "chop shops" for phones really aren't a "thing" right now and the perception that a phone can be remotely "killed" makes a stolen phone less valuable.

    Taken together, these will tend to reduce the number of stolen phones.

    It might change with Apples new $1200.00 device, but until then...

  • iPhone Activation Lock - iOS 7.0, 2013.
    Android Device Protection - Android 5.1 (Lollipop), 2015. :)

  • You shouldn't have to protect yourself from theft. Many countries don't have a culture of theft. go live in one and you'll see this is the approach of having nothing worth stealing is the wrong approach. it's so freeing to live somewhere I can carry whatever and not worry about thieves

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