Irish firms tries to solve problem of lost and stolen phones

June 20, 2012
Since most cellular phones are not stolen but lost, Yougetitback takes an innovative approach to smartphone and tablet recovery

An Irish firm wants to help the forgetful and victimized users of smartphones and tablets. Yougetitback (YGIB), based in the city of Cork, Ireland, offers an app for users of mobile devices running Android, Apple iOS, Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Mobile platforms, that helps device owners lock down their missing devices and which helps finders of mobile smartphones and tablets report them as found and help return them to the rightful owner.

The company is not new at this model, although it's safe to say that the phone hardware and software has changed significantly since it started offering a similar solution to Blackberry owners five years ago when "Blackberry was still king," said Yougetitback's CEO Paul Prendergast.

The YGIB solution competes with the "bricking" option that mobile carriers have only recently begun offering. In the "bricking" model, the carriers offer the ability to remotely disable the smartphone. The option to offer device owners the remote disabling followed after the CTIA (which represents major carriers) and the FCC came to an agreement. Previously, carriers only offered remote protection of the devices by wiping the SIM cards that held personal information.
"Our goal is to make a stolen cell phone as worthless as an empty wallet," said New York Senator Charles Schumer of the FCC initiative in a statement to the media. "By permanently disabling stolen cell phones, we can take away the incentive to steal a cell phone in the first place and put a serious dent in the growing rates of iPhone and smartphone theft."

New York City Police Commission Raymond Kelly heralded the bricking ability when the joint FCC and data carriers effort was announced. "With the press of a button, carriers will be able to disable phones and turn highly prized stolen property into worthless chunks of plastic. Like draining the swamp to fight malaria, we're trying to dry up the market to fight iPhone thefts."

It's undoubtedly a real issue, with the New York Police Department reporting that 42 percent of all property crimes of individuals in New York City in 2011 involved a cell phone. But the reality, according to Yougetitback's Predergast is that most phones aren't stolen, they're simply lost. They're left at restaurants and bars (like the famed iPhone prototype left by an Apple engineer) and they slip out of pockets while riding in cabs. "Over 90% of losses are non-criminal," said Prendergast, whose firm tracks the losses its customers' experience.

That's the difference between a bricking type of lock-down approach and a phone lock-down of the type that Prendergast's firm offers. The Yougetitback "Superhero" app operates under the assumption that the missing smartphone might have landed in the hands of a nefarious person but it also might have landed in the hands of a good Samaritan. As such, once the owner of the phone sends a message to lock-down the phone (something that can be done from any phone via SMS or from a computer), the device goes into a protected mode that allows the finder to report the device as having been found so that it can be returned to the owner.

On the flipside, it also snaps a photo using the device's built-in camera and warns the finder that if they're criminal, their photo has been taken and the device has been reported as missing. It also enables the device to "scream" an alarm, and Pendergast tells the story of a student in Texas whose phone was stolen. The thief obtained the phone and turned down the volume on the phone so that if the owner called the phone, it wouldn't be heard ringing. But because the customer used the app, the system was able to override the muted setting the thief had put the phone in, and the phone started screaming, the thief was identified and it led to arrest by campus police.

The YGIB solution, which is usually sold for around $3 per month, also supports location-based services such as GPS and WiFi location pinpointing and even cell tower-based location to help identify where the phone is.

While the offering isn't designed for enterprise IT security as much as it as a consumer security solution (it's also offered via Best Buy as Geeksquad's "Locked&Found" offering), it does offer an administrator-user management model, and Prendergast says the company is working on a cloud solution for remote back-up of data to further protect smartphones and similar such devices. To help drive the company's growth, YGIB recently added Paul Leahy to drive global business development, and Prendergast said it is pursuing direct involvement with device warranty and protection programs.

In the end, it's one more way to solve the problem of lost and stolen smartphones, and in today's age of "bring your own device" where employees are often loading personal smart mobile devices with business information, the recovery and protection of those devices becomes more important.

About the Author

Geoff Kohl | Editorial Director/Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher

Geoff Kohl is editor-in-chief and associate publisher of and editorial director for Cygnus Security Media magazines Security Technology Executive and Security Dealer & Integrator (SD&I). In 2011 he founded the Secured Cities conference, an urban security/municipal video surveillance conference for law enforcement and city management. In his editorial role, he has covered the security and public safety industries for eight years, and is host of SIW's webinar training series and the SIW Radio podcast program. He is also author of The Security Check blog. He can be written to at [email protected].