£100,000 prize for mobile phone security idea'Design out Crime' challenge to combat phone theft

23 April 2009

Mobile Phone Security Challenge logo

'Design out Crime', a joint initiative between the Home Office Design & Technology Alliance Against Crime and the Design Council, has set a challenge for the UK’s design and technology communities to find a solution to improve mobile phone security.

The goals of the design challenge are to make both mobile phone handsets and the data contained on mobiles harder or less desirable to steal, and to make future m-commerce transactions secure and fraud proof.

It's predicted that in the future we will also use our mobiles as a payment method - 'm-commerce'. According to the Design Council brief, '[each person's] current value of virtual cash is estimated to be around £80 and this is typically distributed between a wallet, phone credit and Oyster card. New technology means this value may soon be concentrated in just one place.' This could lead to a rise in mobile crime, in a similar way to the phishing attacks that take advantage of email and online banking.

Which? has expert advice on staying safe online, and reviews of security software to reduce the risk of PC malware and scams. 

80% of mobiles contain information with potential for fraud

According to statistics on the Design Council website, 'four billion people worldwide have mobile phones – twice as many as have credit cards – and 80% of us carry information on our handsets that could be used by criminals to commit fraud'. Furthermore, the British Crime Survey reveals that a mobile phone is stolen in half of all robberies. 

Current mobile phone security measures amount to little more than using Pin numbers to lock the handset, but this is reliant on the user setting up the code and remembering to use this function. 

Suggestions for the form that the winning entries might take include software or a downloadable application that will help prevent thieves using a stolen phone for calls, accessing any stored data and m-commerce transactions, as well as reducing the phone’s resale potential. 

Key criteria which could ensure success of the chosen solutions include making them simple to be adopted by mobile phone users, and practical innovations that can be developed by mobile handset manufacturers and mobile network providers.

Mobile apps increase potential criminal gain

Which? tech expert Al Warman said: 'as more of us use mobile apps as part of our daily lives, whether it's Gmail, Twitter, eBay or mobile internet banking, the risks of our personal information falling into the wrong hands grow ever greater. 

'At the same time the potential gains to criminals from mobile phone theft become increasingly attractive. It's much more than your handset which is stolen. If you've saved passwords on your mobile, before you realise it the thief could be tweeting, emailing and emptying your bank account.'

The total prize fund offered by the Mobile Phone Security Challenge to develop the winning ideas is £400,000, split between four winning teams of designers and technology specialists. 

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