The segment of smartphones continues to grow steadily, but there is a problem that continues to generate many headaches to the manufacturers and the rest of the industry: on the theft of these devices.
Does not seem to matter that manufacturers have gone to measures like the famous kill switch or input ranges to be more competitive both in price and performance: it seems clear that steal the mobile remains profitable. And much.
A report of a few months ago published by Consumer Reports showed that only in the United States had been 3.1 millions of victims of robberies Smartphones in 2013, almost double of those who had estimated for the previous year. Of that number, 1.4 million was never recovered according to this study.
The problem not only lies in the fact that phones are increasingly important to users by the amount of personal information We store on them, but that these devices end up forming part of a black market whose magnitude is surprising.
Three broad categories of theft
The black market of smartphones thrives on three types of thefts from smartphones. In the first, which is more known, a thief or group of Thieves steals the phone, something which seems that it would not have major consequences, but that it is often part of large scale operations on the black market.
In the second group of theft would be those in which thieves steal large boxes of devices before even of that have been sold and activated. This type of theft are particularly juicy for the organizations that implemented these hits, since the non-activated smartphone they have a great value on the black market, especially if they can be distributed abroad.
Finally we have a third group of operations more complex in which the robbers paid to citizens with low incomes and even Hobos (“Mule”) for that hire one or more mobile lines with an operator to get a smartphone, so then those terminals end up in the hands of thieves. Operators withdraw the credit to customers who had requested those mobile lines, but of course they seem to mind well little.
Stories about the effectiveness of these methods are almost scary. In the case of those robberies through “mules”, were cases as the of two American citizens of Chinese origin, Shou Lin Wen and his wife, Yuting so. A member of its network of theft paid 100 dollars to vagrants so buy a few many phones (Apple iPhone, mostly) under contract at a local electronics store. Phones ended in the hands of Wen and so, paying about $200 by phone – 100 for the Mule, 100 for the intermediary who wore them – and they managed to enter a few $1,000 each of them.
Shipments of these two traffickers were frequent: in a single year, Wen sent 111 packages using a FedEx account that ended up being his downfall. For when the security forces were able to tackle this traffic, this couple had accumulated gains of 2.5 million dollars a year.
The kill switch and insurance as incomplete solutions
One of the mechanisms that the manufacturers are trying to put in place to curb these thefts is the incorporation of the so-called “kill switch” on the devices. These systems allow that in case of theft, a user can remove your details from terminal e even leave them useless until thieves can take advantage of them for example for personal use or resell.
This option is much more fashion than we could believe, and thieves do not have too many difficulties to “place” the goods: the small mobile stores are candidates to pay certain amounts of money for those phones stolen… Despite being stolen. In an interview for the BBC in April last year, a journalist who posed as one of those robbers did not have too many problems to sell phones stolen from different owners of these shops, that Yes, gave practical advice: the first thing you have to do when you steal the phone is remove the SIM and switch it off so they can not locate it.
The problem is that although some studies suggest that these measures have worked in certain scenarios, the overall number of robberies has not stopped increasing. The reason is simple: the kill switch ataja-only part of the problem in that first group of “individual” thefts, but little or nothing you can do with the second and third group of theft.
Theft insurance does not seem to help too, and own operators they have often offered insurance to buyers of mobile with that they among other things also have been a huge benefit. And yet the growth in the number of thefts has been such that even those same operators have begun to demand some kind of regulation and legislation that ataje the problem.
Indeed, some analysts suggest that these two large groups of theft are those who have grown more in recent months, and legislation aimed at the installation of series of kill switch mechanisms is insufficient to solve a problem that seems to worsen more and more. Apple officials have launched the call Activation Lock, a system that enables a user to protect the home of the phone with password and which theoretically prevents that a stolen phone to return to ignite without that code.
IOS 7 that option is present but must configure it by hand, while it is enabled by default in iOS 8. Tatnto Google as Microsoft expected to apply similar systems in terminals based on its mobile platforms coming soon, and in fact 5.0 Android Lollipop is now available a mechanism You can password-protect the operation to reset the terminal to factory settings. That makes that thieves can not sell as new phone since the terminal cannot be activated the deletion of your data and the reinstallation of an operating system “clean” again.
If it doesn’t work as a whole, sell it for parts
Other businesses that have appeared as part of the black market is the of the sale of components. Even though systems such as the “kill switch” help to try to stop part of those robberies, remains who has interest in buying phones locked and apparently useless.
The reason is that: even when the phone itself can not be interesting, It is inside. In recent months two different operations in the United States have ended with the operations of two organizations devoted to steal phones for later resale, full or components to dealers on the black market in Middle East and Asia. If it is not making blackmail owners to recover them by exorbitant amounts.
Some experts compare this battle by try to solve the problem the theft of smartphones that exists in the world of computer viruses. Jeff Kagan, a mobile industry analyst, noted that “there is not a definitive solution to the theft of smartphones and there never will be. It’s like the long war between the people who create viruses and the people who develop security software. Not to grow and grow”.
It seems obvious that the situation is actually problematic and that measures like the kill switch only alleviated in part: stricter legislation is needed with these operations, and probably further action by not only part of developers of mobile platforms But even manufacturers to be able to make stolen phones simply they can resell them not be used by these criminal organizations.