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'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."
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 palm.com/palmprofile, 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.
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.
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).
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
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.