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Kill Your Stolen Cell Remotely

posted Feb 11, 2012, 3:20 AM by Vikas Hazrati
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A handset may be valuable, but it's easily replaced. The data on it, however, is often much more important. Cell phones carry all kinds of personal and business information these days, and preventing it from getting into the wrong hands is key.

While a stray personal address book won't matter much to an unsavory type who finds a lost iPhone—they'd much rather just sell the phone—cached online banking passwords, corporate documents and VPN access are better off kept secure. That's why many of today's smartphones support a mobile kill switch, also called "remote wipe" capability. Remote wipe lets a device owner or IT support engineer remotely erase the handheld's data in case it's lost or stolen.

All of the major smartphone platforms have some kind of remote erase capability. There are several ways of doing it, such as installing apps on the handset, using a management console on the IT side, or signing up for a cloud-based service. Here's a rundown of what's out there for each platform. No matter which smartphone OS you or your employees use, you're bound to find something that can help put your mind at rest.

Though it varies by kill switch and platform, remote wipes aren't fail safe. If someone finds the phone before the remote wipe occurs—which could happen if the battery dies, or there's no signal to receive the command—a thief or corporate spy could disable the network connections and then hack into the device (the procedures would depend on the particular phone). Your best insurance is to flip the kill switch quickly, the same way you would call your credit card company the moment you noticed the card was missing.

Note: By "kill switch" we mean remote wipe capability; this is not to be confused with the "kill switch" found in iPhone OS and Android 1.5 that lets Apple and Google delete mobile apps they no longer approve of on existing handsets.

Apple iPhone
Apple's $99-per-year MobileMe service offers Mac users the ability to push e-mail, contacts, and calendar entries to the iPhone (among other things). But one key feature, first announced in March and later introduced with iPhone OS 3.0, lets MobileMe users perform a remote wipe on a lost or stolen iPhone. It's found under Account -> Find My iPhone -> Remote Wipe. It can also display a message on the phone's screen, like "please call Jamie at 718-555-1212 if found."

Palm Pre
All Palm Pre owners set up a Palm Profile when first activating their new devices. The Palm Profile lets users back up settings, receive over-the-air updates, or—ta da—remotely erase a lost or stolen handset. To begin, head to, enter your profile e-mail address and password, and click Erase Device (for more information on this, read Palm's detailed instructions). In addition, Palm's Exchange ActiveSync implementation in webOS 1.1 now supports Remote Wipe, which lets IT administrations do the same thing for centrally managed Pres.

BlackBerry OS
Any BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) handset can be erased remotely via the Erase Data and Disable Handheld IT administration command over the wireless network. IT admins can also specify if the handset should revert to factory default settings or retain the IT policy it had before. Individual users with BIS can install Roblock for BlackBerry 2.0, a $9.95 app that remote locks or wipes devices, offers GPS tracking, and recovers lost contacts.

Android OS
SMobile Anti-Theft for Android is a $19.95 app that features GPS locate and remote wipe functions for the T-Mobile G1, T-Mobile myTouch 3G, or any other Android-powered smartphone. The app can erase both the handset and any SD card data. The $29.95 Security Shield for Android also protects against viruses and other malware, but that's not much of a concern in the U.S. (at least at the time of this writing).

Windows Mobile
Microsoft's new My Phone Windows Mobile service, currently in beta, lets users locate lost handhelds via GPS and erase their data remotely. It also backs up contacts, photos, text messages, and calendar entries to Microsoft's storage cloud. My Phone (Beta) works with any Windows Mobile 6.0 handheld.

Microsoft Exchange Server can handle the same task for enterprise devices, along with Absolute Software's Computrace Mobile, which can manage enterprise devices running Windows Mobile or BlackBerry and issue remote wipe commands.