Apple, Samsung's latest phones face antitheft stress test

Apple and Samsung's latest phones and their antitheft technology are being tested by state and federal governments on Thursday.

Samsung GS3 and Apple's iPhone 5.
Samsung GS3 and Apple's iPhone 5. CNET

Apple and Samsung's latest smartphones will face the scrutiny of state and federal prosecutors in San Francisco on Thursday, who plan to test the latest in antitheft security.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are testing the latest security features of Apple's iPhone 5 and Samsung's Galaxy S4 to see whether they can stop thieves who have made off with said devices.

In the iPhone 5's case, the group will have security experts attempting to thwart Apple's activation lock feature , which requires users to have a specific Apple ID username and password to use the device. For the Galaxy S4, experts are evaluating Lojack for Android, a $29.99 per year application that can remotely lock the phone and delete personal data.

"While we are appreciative of the efforts made by Apple and Samsung to improve security of the devices they sell, we are not going to take them at their word," Schneiderman and Gascón said in a joint statement. "Today we will assess the solutions they are proposing and see if they stand up to the tactics commonly employed by thieves."

To do so, Gascón and Schneiderman say the group will bring in experts from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center to try to bypass the measures, and gain access to the devices as if they were someone who had stolen the phone.

An Apple spokeswoman reiterated a statement the company made in June, saying it has "led the industry in helping customers protect their lost or stolen devices," since 2009.

"With Activation Lock, Find My iPhone gives customers even more control over their devices and serves as a theft deterrent by requiring an Apple ID and password to turn off Find My iPhone, erase data or re-activate a device," the company said.

Samsung released the following statement, praising the tests:

We appreciate that DA Gascón has given us this opportunity to engage in a working session with his technical team. We plan to take what we learn from the tests to explore opportunities for further enhancements to our solution. We look forward to continuing to work with DA Gascón and his team toward our common goal of stopping smartphone theft.

Phone theft has grown alongside the rising popularity of smartphones, which are expected to be the majority of all mobile phones shipped this year for the first time ever, according to a report from IDC last month . Per a report from the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year, around 113 smartphones are lost or stolen every minute in the U.S., and cell phone theft overall makes up 30 percent to 40 percent of all robberies.

"Finding technical solutions that will remove the economic value of stolen smartphones is critical to ending the national epidemic of violent street crimes commonly known as 'Apple Picking,'" Schneiderman and Gascón added.

Even with the efforts by manufacturers, one thing software security does not protect against is the remaining value for various parts, which can be removed from phones and resold. Screens for the iPhone 5, for instance, sell for upwards of $100, while the battery and camera module can retail for around $30 apiece, making even a nonfunctioning device valuable.

The group was expected to release the results of their efforts late Thursday, but a spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office indicated late Thursday results would not immediately be released.

Updated at 6 p.m. PT with a spokesperson telling CNET that the results will not be released on Thursday, and again at 8:30 a.m. PT on 7/19 with comment from Samsung.

 

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