New Technologies Aim to Stop Phone Theft Fraud

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The U.K. government is bringing three new mobile security technologies designed to safeguard stolen phones to next week's Mobile World Congress in hopes that manufacturers will show interest.

The increasing use of mobile devices for e-mail, banking applications and contactless payments puts users at increased risk of becoming fraud victims when phones go missing. In the U.K., 228 mobile phones are reported stolen every hour.

In May 2009, the U.K. launched a competition for designers and engineers to create new technologies to secure mobile phones. Eight teams were selected in June and received coaching. Three technologies were then picked this month to be showcased at the MWC trade show.

The competition, which received £300,000 (US$480,000) in funding, was sponsored by the Home Office Design and Technology Alliance, the Design Council and the Technology Strategy Board.

Two of the three technologies require mobile phone users to carry another item. One of those is the "i-migo," a small device developed by Data Transfer and Communications and PDD Group that could potentially act as a keychain.

The i-migo communicates with a mobile phone via Bluetooth. The i-migo is also a storage device, and the phone's data is regularly backed up on it. If the i-migo and the phone are separated beyond a range of 30 feet or so, the mobile phone will lock up, and both devices sound an alarm.

Another new technology, called TouchSafe, also requires people to carry an extra item. In this case, it is a small RFID (radio frequency identification) card that uses the same near-field communication technology that is in London's transportation card.

When users want to complete a contactless payment transaction with a phone, they must touch the phone to the card, which authenticates the payment application. After the transaction is complete, the payment application closes and locks. TouchSafe was created by companies Proxama and Minima.

The third technology, called Tie, links a person's phone and their SIM card using a combination of technology that includes asymmetric cipher and public key infrastructure.

Tie encrypts data on the victim's SIM using a 128-bit key and protects it with a password. Tie will also protect any other data on the SIM, such as passwords for Web sites and contact information. If the phone is stolen, a replacement SIM will not work with the phone. Tie was created by Rodd Design and The Technology Partnership.

The Design Council has posted a video as well as photos of the innovations.

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