Phone theft is so common it barely makes the news and has been branded an epidemic by both police and politicians. The combined value of smartphones lost and stolen daily in the US is a staggering $7 million, which sounds impossible until one considers that 113 cell phones are lost or stolen every minute. Most phone theft is likely opportunistic in nature, with thieves snatching up devices accidentally pitched out of shallow pockets or unzipped purses, but that doesn’t make the consequences of loss or theft any less dire.
Today’s mobile devices are more than just phones. They’re our banks, our scrapbooks, our payment methods and our work computers. The information on a single cell phone can be all a thief needs to usurp a person’s entire identity, online and off. That’s why California’s kill switch legislation, which was the first of its kind in the nation, was heralded as groundbreaking and is being championed by other states.
Guaranteeing that phones are sold with the ability to “brick” the device remotely after loss or theft may be less important than making sure that there is no opt-in required. A 2014 Consumer Reports survey found that most Americans don’t even password protect their devices so making sure that security features are toggled to on automatically is vital. Until fairly recently, only Apple devices had a kill switch feature that was opt-out rather than opt-in. Now thanks to pressure from legislators and law enforcement officials in California, Oregon, Minnesota, and elsewhere, the best mobile processors with a kill switch (as well as the ability to recover data) are coming from Snapdragon and other notable brands.
“We’re already witnessing a worldwide reduction in smartphone robberies following the limited implementation of this technology,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon told Forbes. But even as phones hit the market with more robust security features it’s worth noting that a little personal responsibility goes a long way. Here are a few simple steps everyone can take to make mobile devices that much more secure:
Ideally we’d all treat our phones as extensions of the computers we use at home and at work, keeping them even more secure since a smartphone is a lot easier to swipe off a café table than a laptop. Kill switch laws are a great start – after Apple made them standard phone thefts dropped 40% in London, 16% in New York City and 22% in San Francisco – but tweaking just a few settings as outlined above can make your device even more secure.