U.S. carriers to create central database to combat cell burglars

We recently told you about how a study concluded that 50% of found cellphones are returned to their owners. That doesn't really speak to willfully stolen phones — a trend that's rising fast enough that major wireless providers are banding together to create a central database of stolen cellphones.

The database will track phones reported as stolen, and alert the carriers to deny any voice or data service. Without the ability to reactive the devices or retrieve data, the hope is that it will deter theft.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Verizon Communications, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile will work over the next six months on individual databases, which will then be centralized over two years. The hope is that smaller, regional carriers will join the program as well.

While the major carriers all agree the rising level of thefts across the country is something they all want to tackle, the task is made more difficult for those that use SIM cards versus CDMA devices.

SIM cards are easily removed and replaced making them valuable targets to thieves whereas CDMA devices have electronic serial numbers as part of the handset. This means the handset itself is linked to the network so when they are reported stolen its unique number can readily be tracked.

Verizon and Sprint utilize CDMA technology and already have working databases; AT&T and T-Mobile utilize SIM cards but are committed to finding a solution. Perhaps one place the carriers can look to is their U.K. counterparts who have instituted a similar database and data cut off in the case of theft or looting.

The joint industry/government resolution comes just a few days after a report from security firm Symantec that found that smartphones are only returned 50 percent of the time. In the experiment where the company loaded smartphones with fake data and purposefully "lost" them to determine what happens when phones go missing, an incredible 96 percent of the phones were accessed for data.

While data phishing has been an ongoing problem with cellphones that go missing or are stolen, this new information underscores just how valuable a national database could be once in place.

Even after the database becomes real, it is important to remember to keep your personal data secure. In the amount of time it takes to discover and report your missing phone to your carrier, the amount of damage that can be done with your data is alarming.

The Wall Street Journal, via Engadget

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