Tuesday 4 October 2011

Over The Air 2011: Stolen and lost phones - can mobile phone applications help with the problem?

Detective Sergeant Andy Williams

  • National Mobile Crime Unit – based in Notting Hill
  • Criminals stealing to order
  • Cops are not the most technologically advanced people – when Andy wants something done, he asks his children…
  • in 2001, 45% street crime linked to mobiles
    • this was from the British Crime Survey – not reported crime, but surveyed
  • current stats:
    • 9.7% of all UK crime accounted for by theft of a handset
    • 60% of mobile phones stolen in personal robberies are iPhones or BlackBerrys
      • not just the phone is high value, but the data on the phones
    • avg 8,000 phones stolen every month in london

what happens to stolen phones?

  • used until blocked (by IMEI)
    • IMEI blocking works across UK, 60% of Europe, plus North & South America coming in soon
    • but main export markets are North Africa (mainly Algeria) & Romania
  • some handsets are vulnerable to having their IMEI changed (so can be unblocked)
  • phones used for parts (broken screens, etc)
  • phones used for non-phone functions – mp3 player, etc
  • blocking:
    • operator will block SIM
    • will also request IMEI to be blocked
  • individual can install a theft tracking app, but police would need a signed warrant
    • police can’t monitor 8,000 phones a month
  • IMEIs are personal data in Germany
  • phones offered on eBay, shown as blocked or no signal

immobilise – national property register


  • if device is registered with immobilise, police don’t need to go through RIPA
  • can put anything with a serial number on there
  • can check on people’s phones when stop people on the street
  • private company set up and operated in conjunction with the police

formation of NMPCU

  • initially front line - reducing robbery
  • expanded to all acquisitive crime
  • working at all levels of crime - local through to organised
  • now an offence to offer to reprogram a phone (change the IMEI)

Police Central eCrime Unit

  • trying to combat cyber-criminals
  • looking at denial of service attacks, etc
  • front line police notoriously poor at dealing with cyber crime
  • but no law enforcement agency that specialises in all areas of cyber crime
  • most expertise is in the forensic area
  • judicial system is not set up to deal with cyber crime
  • judicial boundaries don’t help – if online connections are not in UK…
  • recently starting up new kind of officer: Covert Internet Investigator
  • not very many across the country

Case study: organised criminals targeting music events

  • following same bands the whole time
    • bands with mosh pits…
  • Download 2010: 3 people found with 140 phones buried under their tent

Security & new mobile tech

  • Man City gave 20 season ticket holders their tickets on their phone
  • if someone steals your phone, they have access to your wallet, your ticket, your flat…
  • NFC requirements requested by police:
    • PIN required for all payments – not gonna happen!
      • at the moment, 5 payments of £10 until a PIN required
    • capture IMEI during transactions
      • possible but not gonna happen
    • compulsory registration with financial institution
      • may happen

key areas

  • registration at point of sale
  • carphone warehouse register 25,000 phones a day at Xmas
  • only 4 in 10 PIN lock their phone
    • significant barrier
  • locating devices post theft
    • works ok, but not great – won’t work if someone goes into a block of flats
  • identification of a SIM change post theft



  • can find out if an IMEI is stolen
  • some operators run this service for free
  • but otherwise may cost £1 a shot

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