Apple tries locking thieves out of iPhones

The phones and iPads have been the most popular targets for criminals. The company is hoping to change that.

By Jason Notte Jun 11, 2013 4:26PM
A person takes a photo of an Apple sign with an iPhone (© Lukas Barth/dapd/AP Photo)It's as if tech companies are shocked that anyone would steal a $200 to $700 device that's easily tucked into a bag or pocket.


On Monday, Apple (AAPL) unveiled an "activation lock" for its iPhone that's designed to render the phone useless when a thief tries to turn off tracking software without a password.


We are nearly six years into the iPhone's existence and this is when Apple decides such a feature might just be worth including on a device? Not in any of the generations that came before, not when it released the iPad, but now?


We're sure that comes as great comfort to the 1.6 million Americans who had their smartphones stolen last year, according to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. It's also a little too late for local police forces, who have to deal with the 40% of robberies in major cities that now involve mobile devices, according to the Federal Communications Commission.


Gascon and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are scheduled to meet with representatives from Apple, Samsung, Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) on Thursday after publicly criticizing those tech companies for failing to develop anti-theft technology. (Microsoft owns and publishes moneyNOW, an MSN Money site.)


As a Huffington Post investigation discovered, many stolen devices are distributed through a global network to buyers as far away as Hong Kong. With law enforcement agencies singling out Apple devices as the most popular targets because of their high resale value, Apple and other device manufacturers have come under pressure to add a kill switch that undermines the value of a stolen phone.


Until now, Apple's theft victims have had to rely on the "Find My iPhone" program to track their devices on a map, display messages on their screen, lock the devices remotely with a password and delete data. That's been rendered pretty much useless by thieves who've figured out how to turn it off. Apple's new feature prevents thieves from turning off "Find My iPhone" and then reactivating the device by prompting anyone who tries that to supply their iCloud username and password.


While that's not quite as strong a deterrent as district attorneys, law enforcement or families of people who've been killed for their iPhones would like, it's at least better than the incredibly passive options that have been in place up to this point.


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2Comments
Jun 11, 2013 7:44PM
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If Apple really cared about discouraging theft they would create a kill switch in each phone that when activated would make the phone unusable no matter what. The issue with Apples plan is that hackers can scramble the internal serial number and make it like a new phone which makes the database of stolen phones they currently rely on worthless against professionals. Companies like Apple has an incentive not to prevent this as every phone stolen usually means a new phone sale. 
Jun 12, 2013 11:04AM
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What almost no one notices is that it is in Apples best interest that phones get stolen - because then they have to get replaced!  Apple profits handsomely from this chain of events. 
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