Tag Archives: Crime Prevention

The pocket spy: Will your smartphone rat you out? – New Scientist

by Linda Geddes (New Scientist)

The pocket spy: Will your smartphone rat you out? – tech – 14 October 2009 – New Scientist.

THERE are certain things you do not want to share with strangers. In my case it was a stream of highly personal text messages from my husband, sent during the early days of our relationship. Etched on my phone’s SIM card – but invisible on my current handset and thus forgotten – here they now are, displayed in all their brazen glory on a stranger’s computer screen.

I’ve just walked into a windowless room on an industrial estate in Tamworth, UK, where three cellphone analysts in blue shirts sit at their terminals, scrutinising the contents of my phone and smirking. “If it’s any consolation, we would have found them even if you had deleted them,” says one.

Worse, it seems embarrassing text messages aren’t the only thing I have to worry about: “Is this a photo of your office?” another asks (the answer is yes). “And did you enjoy your pizza on Monday night? And why did you divert from your normal route to work to visit this address in Camberwell, London, on Saturday?”

I’m at DiskLabs, a company that handles cellphone forensic analysis for UK police forces, but also for private companies and individuals snooping on suspect employees or wayward spouses. Armed with four cellphones, which I have begged, borrowed and bought off friends and strangers, I’m curious to know just how much personal information can be gleaned from our used handsets and SIM cards.

A decade ago, our phones’ memories could just about handle text messages and a contacts book. These days, the latest smartphones incorporate GPS, Wi-Fi connectivity and motion sensors. They automatically download your emails and appointments from your office computer, and come with the ability to track other individuals in your immediate vicinity. And there’s a lot more to come. Among other things, you could be using the next generation of phones to keep tabs on your health, store cash and make small transactions – something that’s already happening in east Asia (see “Future phones“).

Gone phishing

These changes could well be exploited in much the same way that email and the internet can be used to “phish” for personal information such as bank details. Indeed, some phone-related scams are already emerging, including one that uses reprogrammed cellphones to intercept passwords for other people’s online bank accounts. “Mobile phones are becoming a bigger part of our lives,” says Andy Jones, head of information security research at British Telecommunications. “We trust and rely on them more. And as we rely on them more, the potential for fraud has got to increase.”

So just how secure is the data we store on our phones? If we are starting to use them as combined diaries and wallets, what happens if we lose them or they are stolen? And what if we simply trade in our phones for recycling?

According to the UK government’s Design and Technology Alliance Against Crime (DTAAC), 80 per cent of us carry information on our handsets that could be used to commit fraud – and about 16 per cent of us keep our bank details on our phones. I thought my Nokia N96 would hold few surprises, though, since I had only been using it for a few weeks when I submitted it to DiskLabs. Yet their analysts proved me wrong.

Aside from the text messages stored on my SIM card, the most detailed personal information that could be gleaned from my handset came from an application called Sports Tracker. It allows users to measure their athletic performance over time and I had been using it to measure how fast I could cycle to work across London. It records distance travelled, fastest speed at different points along the route, changes in altitude, and roughly how many calories I burn off. But when DiskLabs uploaded this data to their computer and ran it through Google

they were able to pull up images of the front of my office and my home – with the house number clearly displayed. Sports Tracker also recorded what time I normally leave the house in the morning and when I return from work. “If I wanted more information, then I could just stalk you,” says Neil Buck, a senior analyst at DiskLabs.

I had deliberately chosen to turn Sports Tracker on, and many people might not stop to consider how such programs could be used against them. In February, Google launched Latitude, networking software for smartphones that shares your location with friends. It can be turned off, but campaign group Privacy International is concerned by Latitude’s complex settings and says it is possible the program could broadcast your location to others without your knowledge. “Latitude could be a gift to stalkers, prying employers, jealous partners and obsessive friends,” the organisation warns.

It is possible your phone could broadcast your location to others without your knowledge

A phone-based calendar could also leave you vulnerable. Police in the UK have already identified burglaries that were committed after the thief stole a phone and then targeted the individual’s home because their calendar said they were away on holiday, says Joe McGeehan, head of Toshiba’s research lab in Europe and leader of DTAAC’s Design Out Crime project, which recently set UK designers the challenge of trying to make cellphones less attractive to people like hackers and identity thieves. “It’s largely opportunistic, but if you’ve got all your personal information on there, like bank details, social security details and credit card information, then you’re really asking for someone to ‘become’ you, or rob you, or invade your corporate life,” McGeehan says.

Code cracker

When Buck looked at my colleague’s iPhone, he found two 4-digit numbers stored in his address book under the names “M” and “V”. A search through his text messages revealed a few from Virgin informing him that a new credit card, ending in a specific number, had just been mailed to him. Buck guessed that “M” and “V” were PIN codes for the Virgin credit card and a Mastercard – and he proved to be correct on both counts.

“Out of context, an individual piece of information such as an SMS is almost meaningless,” says Jones. “But when you have a large volume of information – a person’s diary for the year, his emails, the plans he’s building – and you start to put them together, you can make some interesting discoveries.”

In this way the DiskLabs team also identified my colleague’s wife’s name, her passport number and its expiry date, and that she banks with Barclays. Ironically, Barclays had contacted her regarding fraud on her card and she had texted this to her husband. Buck’s team also discovered my colleague’s email address, his Facebook contacts, and their email addresses.

This kind of personal data is valuable and can fetch a high price online. It’s ideal for so-called 419 scams, for instance, in which you receive an email asking for help in exporting cash from a foreign country via your bank account, in exchange for a share of the profits. “What they need to launch a successful 419 scam is personal information,” says Jones.

A growing awareness of identity theft means that many people now destroy or wipe computer hard drives before throwing them away, but the same thing isn’t yet happening with cellphones, says Jones. At the same time, we are recycling ever greater numbers of handsets. According to market analysts ABI Research, by 2012 over 100 million cellphones will be recycled for reuse each year.

As part of a study to find better ways to protect cellphone data, Jones recently acquired 135 cellphones and 26 BlackBerry devices from volunteers, cellphone recycling companies and online auctioneers eBay. Around half of the devices couldn’t be accessed because they were faulty. In our own smartphone experiment, we were unable to retrieve any data from a BlackBerry, or the Samsung E590.

However, Jones’s team found 10 phones that contained enough personal data to identify previous users, and 12 had enough information for their owner’s employer to be identified – even though just three of the phones contained SIM cards.

Of the 26 BlackBerrys, four contained information from which the owner could be identified and seven contained enough to identify the owner’s employer. “The big surprise was the amount we got off the BlackBerry devices, which we had expected to be much more secure,” says Jones. While BlackBerry users have the option of encrypting their data or sending a message to purge data from their phones should it be sold or stolen, many had not done this. “Security is only any good if you turn the damned thing on,” says Jones.

Security is only any good if you turn the damned thing on

His team managed to trace one BlackBerry back to a senior sales director of a Japanese corporation. They recovered his call history, 249 address book entries, his diary, 90 email addresses and 291 emails. This enabled them to determine the structure of his organisation and responsibilities of individuals working within it; the organisation’s business plans for the next period; its main customers and the state of its relationships with them; travel and accommodation arrangements of the individual; his family details – including children, their occupations and movements, marital status, addresses, domestic arrangements, appointments and addresses for medical and dental care; his bank account numbers and sort codes, and his car registration index. Two further BlackBerrys “contained details of a personal nature about the owner and other individuals that would have caused embarrassment or distress if it had become publicly known”, says Jones.

Although his team used specialist forensic software to retrieve data from the phones, much of it could be obtained directly from the handsets themselves, or by using simple software of the kind that is sold with a phone. “This was not designed to be a sophisticated attack, it used simple techniques that anyone would have access to,” Jones says.

That’s bad news, considering that around 20 millions handsets were lost or stolen worldwide in 2008, according to UK data-security specialists Recipero. So how can people go about making their phones more secure? Turning on the security settings is an important first step, says McGeehan, as this may dissuade potential thieves from going to the effort of trying to crack the codes. Then make sure you delete anything you want to keep secret, while bearing in mind that it is often possible to recover it (see “Phone security Q & A“). “I work on the basis that anything I put on there I’ve got to be prepared for people to see,” says McGeehan.

As for me, I’ve taken to deleting potentially incriminating messages as soon as they arrive in my inbox – and reproving the sender in return. I have also passed my old handset to my husband for safekeeping. If those brazen messages must fall into someone else’s hands, I’d rather they were the hands of the Don Juan who composed them than a smirking IT geek in a distant windowless room.

To read the rest of this article please go to: New Scientist

Tameside Police work to cut burglaries in the run-up to Christmas

The Tameside Advertiser has reported that their local Police force will be out on the streets this week as they continue their campaign to reduce burglaries in the run-up to Christmas.

They stated that the initiative known as “Operation Storm” was launched earlier this year in response to a 10 per cent rise in burglaries across Greater Manchester. Since July Police have slashed the number of burglaries in the borough by 65, compared to the same period last year, and have pledged to carry on with help from the public.

Dedicated teams of officers will be sent out to arrest suspects, visit known offenders and reassure victims of burglary. They will be patrolling the streets handing out crime prevention advice in hotspot areas and promoting the www.immobilise.com where residents can register their valuables online to make it easier for police to identify them if stolen.

Chief Insp Ged O’Connor, of Tameside police, said:

The level of assistance residents have shown the police in tackling burglary is to be commended. The community will not support criminality and there is no hiding place for those people who choose to break the law. Storm sends a clear message to would-be thieves that the police are working around the clock to prevent crime and bring those people who choose to commit offences to justice.

To read the souce article in full please go to: Tameside Adverstiser: No hiding place for thieves as residents back purge

Students warned to keep valuables out of sight and secure

bathstudentspolice20091002In the last 6 months in Bath and North East Somerset 144 laptops have been stolen (1st April to 30 September 2009), 80 from houses and other dwellings; 24 from commercial burglaries and 9 from vehicles and the rest being general thefts. When new students arrive in the area with new high value items such as laptops, ipods and phones there is an increase in theft as the opportunity to steal is easier with students being less vigilant of their property when they first arrive.

To combat this Police in Bath have been working hard at Freshers Fayres and talking to students generally about keeping property safe. On Friday 2nd October at Bath University Freshers Fayre thousands of property marking UV pens were given out, advice given on crime prevention and hundreds of students registered their phones on www.immobilise.com, a national property register that records details so property can be returned or traced if stolen.

Sergeant Geoff Cannon part of the Community Safety team at Bath Police Station said:

A student house to a burglar can be a playground to take several high value items in one go. Students can keep themselves safe however by just following a few simple guidelines. Keep all high value items out of sight and away from windows where they can be easily seen. Secure all doors to your property at all times and know who has keys to come and go.

News article source: Avon & Somerset Police

Bike thefts expected to increase in Cambridge this month

road.cc. the popular online cycle news site has published an interesting story concerning and expected rise in bike crime as students return to university this month.

Cambridge is one of the worst effected cities as accoring to road.cc there were 1,433 cycle thefts between January- July, prompting a police crackdown on the crime, but there is a massive increase in bikes being stolen during autumn as 30,000 university students arrive in the city.

In October 2006 and 2007, more than 300 bikes were stolen, and this compared to 140 in April 2006 and 170 during the same month in 2007 and 2008. The figure fell to around 225 last year, but due to the increase in bike thefts in other months this year police are expecting a record number this month.

Cambridge City Councillor Lewis Herbert has called for more secure areas for cyclists to leave bikes and told Cambridge News:

I hope the publicity campaign helps but I am still worried and very concerned at risk of a major outbreak of thefts in the autumn and the high theft figures through 2009.

There is organised theft across the city of bikes not locked to fixtures and the problem of new bikes and new students in the autumn. Cycle theft is probably the biggest readily reducible set of crimes in the city and as Cambridgeshire Chief Constable Julie Spence and others like me have said, it needs a far tougher set of initiatives to crack it.

Sgt Gordon Morgenthaler of Cambridgeshire Police has teamed up with Cambridge City Council and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign as well as cycle shops in the city to raise awareness about the crime, and he is asking people to register their bikes on immobilise.com.

For more interesting figures and to read the source article in full please go to: road.cc

Students learn how to avoid becoming victims of crime

The Bolton News has reported that students have been given tips on how to avoid becoming victims of crime.

Police from the Bolton Central Neighbourhood Policing Team have been at Bolton University all week, marking property and registering students’ laptops and phones on the Immobilise database.

They have also been giving advice and crime-prevention tools displaying GMP’s new student safety campaign logo.

Inspector Phil Spurgeon said:

Every year, we run safety campaigns aimed at providing students with advice to prevent them becoming a victim of crime.

However, for new students in particular, crime prevention is always going to be the last thing on their minds when they are leaving home for the first time and they are likely to think it will never happen to them.

Local neighbourhood officers were on hand to meet and greet the new students and their parents, to remind them of how they can keep themselves and their valuables safe. Safety messages are also being sent each week to student’s phones in the area.

Students can follow simple steps to help stop thieves, including keeping valuables out of sight, always being aware of what is going on around them, keeping to well-lit areas and shutting and locking all windows and doors, even when they are at home.

To read the source article in full please go to: Bolton News

Portable scanners crack down on phone thieves

The News Shopper in Bromley has reported that thieves are facing instant detection on the streets after the borough’s police became the first in London to purchase portable scanners.

The handheld device scans the IMEI barcode inside the back of a mobile phone and checks it against the national property register to see if it is registered as stolen.

It can also be used to check mobile phones, laptops, MP3 players and bikes, and for phones where the barcode is not easily accessable officers can simply key in the IMEI number (accessable on all phones by keying *#06#) directly into the device.

Borough commander Chief Superintendent Charles Griggs said:

The operation is one of many throughout the year where we focus on the safety of the travelling public and tackling crime and disorder on public transport.

What is different is the use of Apollo. As a portable handheld solution Apollo offers my officers remote access to the national mobile phone register whether out in the field or in the custody suite and gives us the opportunity to quickly identify stolen property.

Bromley police is encouraging everyone to register with the secure national property register at immobilise.com.

This will help the police to identify items and return them to their owners if they get lost or stolen.

Anyone with information about robbery in Bromley should call the police on 01689 891212 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

To read the source article in full please go to: The News Shopper

Police in Bath give new Students advice and support on living away from home for the first time

BathPoliceNewsImageNS17900NSUPolice in Bath have been heavily involved in fresher’s weeks at both Bath Spa University and City of Bath College in the last week. Officers are attending fresher’s fayres giving advice, handing out information and making students aware of how to look after themselves when living away from home for the first time.

This week sees the arrival of Bath’s biggest influx of new students at the University of Bath and police are involved again getting in touch with the new students in the city.

Chief Superintendent Gary Davies says;

In an ideal world I would like to be able to send letters to parents of new students before their children arrive in Bath for their time studying here. Mainly this would be a letter of reassurance as we are a safe environment for young people to come to but also to just highlight the ways in which students can help look after themselves by taking notice of some simple crime prevention advice. Our work with the students when they arrive this week will go a long way to keeping them and their property safe. We are also committed to a standard of behaviour in our night time economy and we need to make sure our new residents know how to behave.

At the freshers fayre on October 2nd students will get crime prevention advice, see a rape awareness campaign and have the opportunity to ask questions of officers on issues such as safety and recruitment. Students will also get the opportunity to register mobile phones, ipods and valuable property on www.immobilise.com. Immobilise helps UK police forces to identify the owner of lost & stolen goods thousands of times every day and return items to rightful owners.

Sergeant Geoff Cannon from Bath’s Community Safety Team commented:

When new 1st year students arrive at university the first thing on their mind is rarely to keep expensive property out of sight or to check locks on accommodation or to remember to walk home with people they know and not alone. It is understandable that they are excited and we want to welcome them to our city to enjoy all that it has to offer. Bath police officers are very approachable and this gives students the opportunity to talk to us on the day and to feel confident to talk to us at any time in the future.

Bath police are working on crime reduction at the freshers fayre with Heart FM and thank them for their support. They both continue to promote the message “Bath is a beautiful city we need your help to keep it that way”.

To read the source article in full please go to: Bath Police (Avon and Somerset Police)

Metropolitan Police work to “immobilise” bike theft

PC Carr from Highgate Safer Neighbourhoods Team with Ralph Crisp
PC Carr from Highgate Safer Neighbourhoods Team with Ralph Crisp

London’s Metropolitan Police has reported that officers from its Safer Neighbourhoods Teams have been helping people to register their bicycles on immobilise.com in an effort to combat a spate of bike thefts in which eighteen bicycles worth an estimated total of almost £13,000 were reported stolen in Highgate alone.

Officers are also carrying out covert and overt patrols and ‘decoy bikes’, to see if they can catch criminals red handed. Officers have made several arrests on suspicion of handling stolen goods as a result of proactive police work.

Sergeant Leon Christodoulou, Highgate Safer Neighbourhoods team said:

We’ve been going door to door to offer crime prevention advice on car and bike security and register people’s property on immobilise. We are happy for anyone in the area that owns a bike to contact us on 020 8721 2673 and we will arrange to register the bike on immobilise.com for them at no cost.

Police urge cyclists to follow some simple guidance around securing their bicycles, to help prevent theft:

  • Record and register your bike: – register your bicycle model, make and frame number free on the immobilise.com property register.
  • Take a clear colour photograph of your bike and make a written record of its description, including any unique features.
  • Invest in quality locks and use them. Look for the ‘secured by design’ quality mark. As a general guide look to spend about a tenth of the value of your bike on locks to secure it. (ie: secure a £1000 bike with £100 worth of locks).
  • Secure removable parts. Lock both wheels and the frame together. Take smaller parts and accessories with you, for example, lights, pumps and quick-release saddles.
  • Secure your bike to an immovable object. Consider installing a floor or wall mounted anchor lock for extra security at home. Remember that thieves can remove drainpipes and lift bikes off signposts.
  • Always lock your bicycle, even if you are just leaving it for a couple of minutes.
  • Secure your bike in well-lit, busy areas where any potential thief would be easily seen.
  • Park your bike safely and considerately, where it will not cause a danger or obstruction to others – particularly the elderly or the very young, or people with a disability.

More infromation onf bike security can be found at the London Cycling Campaign website www.Icc.org.uk for further security advice. If you think you are being offered a stolen bike, ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

To read the source article in full please go to: Metropolitain Police

Avon and Somerset Police warn Bristol bike owners to beware

Police in Bristol are warning bike owners to beware after arresting and charging a 26-year-old man from London who was spotted by officers while taking a bike from outside the BRI.

The suspect was seen in a shirt and tie, putting on a helmet and trouser-ties, tampering with a lock on a Mountain bike, which he then calmly placed into his rucksack, before attempting to ride off.

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Kelvey is heading up a special task team focussed on catching criminals who are stealing bikes in the city.  DCI Kelvey wants to dispel the myth that bike thefts are only carried out by opportunist thieves and wants everyone to be more cycle security savvy.

DCI Kelvey said:

With Bristol being named the country’s first Cycle City there is a big drive to double the number of people using bicycles. 

We don’t want this to mean more opportunity for thieves or more victims of crime.

There are plenty of opportunist thieves who will take a bike if it is not secured properly, or those who take bikes from homes during burglaries, but there are also more organised and sophisticated bike thieves now operating.

The man who was arrested by our officers had travelled all the way from London with the intention of returning with a stolen bike.

He was dressed like an office worker so to passers-by, who were not observing closely, it may have just looked like a commuter picking up his bike.

DCI Kelvey went on to add that the Police needed the public support through increased vigilance, and to be proactive in the registration of their bikes and property on the national property database, Immobilise.

DCI Kelvey said:

It is the only property database that will automatically throw up results when we do checks on property through our standard system.

You would be surprised at how many stolen bikes we recover that end up having to be auctioned because there is no way of identifying an owner.

To read the source article in full please go to: Avon and Somerset Police

Stolen bike listed on Ebay leads to recovery and arrest

Police officers in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire have recovered a high value bicycle and returned it to its rightful owner after it was listed for sale on the online auction site Ebay.

The Marin Mount Vision 5.8 2009 model bike was stolen, along with a Hard Tail mountain bike, from a home in Hester’s Way Lane in Cheltenham between 10pm on Wednesday August 5 and 5.45am on Thursday August 6.

Annoyed by the theft of their bikes one of the owners began searching online auction sites and immediately recognised one of stolen bikes as theirs. The police were alerted and acted straight away carrying out a warrant at an address in Springbank Grove, the marin bike, which is valued at approximately £2850, was recovered and a 29-year-old man arrested.

The man was later charged with theft of a pedal cycle and bailed to appear at Cheltenham Magistrates Court on September 18. The second bike has not yet been recovered and officers continue to work to try and locate it so that it can also be returned to its owner.

Officers are encouraging cyclists to register their bikes on www.immobilise.com, a website that allows you to create a free, private and secure portfolio of all of your personal property and adds the items to the National Mobile Property Register. If the bike, or registered item, is then lost or stolen the website can be used to tell the Police, your insurer and the second-hand trade to assist in recovering your property and catch the thief.

If you are about to purchase a second-hand bike and are unsure of the bikes history we recommend you consider checking the bikes serial number against Immobilise’s sister service CheckMEND – The Second-hand Database of Lost, Stolen and Counterfeit Goods.

Anyone who thinks they may have seen the outstanding bike is asked to contact Gloucestershire Constabulary on 0845 090 1234 quoting incident number 94 of August 6. Alternatively you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.