Mobile alliance takes aim at handset theft

Mobile heavyweights to develop cross-border anti-robbery tricks
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

Mobile heavyweights to develop cross-border anti-robbery tricks

Mobile operators and handset manufacturers are gearing up to announce a new initiative designed to stop handsets stolen in Europe being used abroad.

The scheme from the GSM Association will combine new features on phones and database technology to try to stamp out the trade in stolen mobiles. While phones that are reported stolen can be disabled to stop them being used in the UK, it is still possible for certain phones to be reprogrammed and reactivated.

Currently, each phone has comes with its own unique code, called an international mobile equipment identifier (IMEI), which is stored on a central equipment register. When a phone is reported as stolen, the handset bearing that code will be barred from use and effectively disabled. However, the system isn't infallible and some IMEIs can be cracked.

Hardware names such as Sony Ericsson and Nokia are on board, and are reportedly looking into making tamper-proof handsets so that their IMEIs cannot be reprogrammed.

Operators will also be stepping in to make sure that phones registered as stolen are put on a multi-country 'blacklist'.

A spokesman for the GSM Association said that the organisation was currently working on various ways to combat handset theft. "We've been operating a central equipment register for some time... that's one weapon in our armoury. We're also working with vendors [who are] producing secure IMEIs that can be reprogrammed on certain makes and models of phones, which can undermine the benefits of the central equipment register. We're working on both these fronts at the moment."

Further details of the scheme are to be announced at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes later this month.

The new scheme is the latest in a series of initiatives by mobile companies to crackdown on handset theft. Last year saw the launch of a police campaign called Immobilise, which encouraged phone users to report stolen phones, and the setting up of a new unit charged solely with cutting handset theft.

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