Stolen smart phones scream to be found

New service can remotely make a smart phone emit a high-pitched wail so it can be found after being stolen. Audio: Screaming phone

That ear-piercing ring you hear in a restaurant might not be somebody who forgot to set their cell phone to vibrate.

A new service called Mobile Manager, from Synchronica, can remotely make a Windows Mobile-based handset emit an "annoying and embarrassing high-pitched wail," so it can be found after it has been stolen or misplaced.

Synchronica is a U.K.-based vendor of mobile-device management tools that aims to help victims of cell phone theft to strike back, according to a company statement sent Monday.

Thousands of mobile phones are stolen every month, according to Synchronica. If these are smart phones, they can contain sensitive information such as e-mail messages and computer files, potentially causing embarrassing data leaks.

Synchronica's mobile-phone management product can remotely lock and wipe data from Windows-based phones as soon as their owners report the loss. Companies can also turn on the "Synchronica Scream" feature.

"On average, it takes only 30 seconds for someone to notice that their phone is missing, compared to an hour for a wallet or purse," according to Synchronica. As a result, victims should be able to hear their phones scream out for them.

Devices don't have to be lost or stolen to expose sensitive data. Engineers at McLean, Va.-based Trust Digital, another mobile-security company, recently bought 10 smart phones on eBay and were able to recover 24,000 pages of data from nine of the gadgets, some of which were sold by employees of major corporations. The same kind of test is often done on used hard-disk drives.

"The salvaged data included everything from personal banking and tax information to corporate sales activity notes to even former corporate client records, product roadmaps, contact address books, computer passwords, and other private, competitive and highly damaging material," according to a Trust Digital e-mail sent Tuesday. The company plans to announce its findings on Wednesday.

Synchronica sells its Mobile Manager product to operators and businesses. The product works with Windows Mobile 2003, Pocket PC Phone Edition, and Windows Mobile 5. Support for Symbian is underway. Trust Digital's Mobile Edge product has similar features, though its Web site doesn't list a "scream" feature.