New Windows Phone update will introduce anti-theft protection

We are frequently reminded by police and security advisors of the need to be cautious when using our lovely, shiny smartphones in public, for all around us are those that covet our precious devices, and have no qualms about stealing them. But while pressing home the need for diligence, authorities and technology companies are also doing their bit to ensure that devices become less attractive to thieves, and new measures are on the way to Windows Phone and Android handsets with that objective in mind. 

Today, Microsoft announced that it will implement new anti-theft features into Windows Phone, as part of the CTIA's Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment, to which it signed up in April. The company will introduce a range of new capabilities to Windows Phone handsets ahead of the group's target of July 2015. 


The new Windows Phone features will extend the capabilities already offered in 'Find My Phone'

The new features will extend the existing 'Find My Phone' functions with the ability to remotely erase all personal data from the handset, as well as making the device completely inoperable, except for calls to emergency services. Additionally, users will be able to fully prevent reactivation or setup of the handset, but will also be able to manually restore functions to the phone if desired - for example, if the device is subsequently found after being deactivated - including the ability to restore data to the handset from cloud back-ups. 

Microsoft will enable the new feature on all Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 handsets via a future update. However, the company does warn that this will be subject to carrier and manufacturer approval. 

The feature will bring Windows Phone in line with similar functions in Apple's iOS, and as Bloomberg reports today, Google will also be implementing it in future versions of Android. The office of the New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, said today that robberies involving Apple products had dropped by 19% in the first five months of the year, following Apple's introduction of anti-theft measures in its devices in September, with drops of 38% reported in San Francisco and 24% in London. 

Schneiderman said that "the statistics released today illustrate the stunning effectiveness of kill switches and the commitments of Google and Microsoft are giant steps toward consumer safety."

Source: Microsoft

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If you have sensitive data on a phone it should be encrypted, period. Due to the fact we live on a planet with finite resource I'd feel very uncomfortable bricking a device because someone stole it, honestly I'd be happier if they or someone else were using it for something useful (I can rest easy at this point because my device is encrypted). Yes, I'd be annoyed it was gone but I'd still want it to be put to good use by someone.

So they're going to make an internet connection required to set up your phone?

We need actual studies to see if these anti-theft measures actually reduced theft. They just seem inconvenient and hurt the second hand market.

They're going to make it so you can't do a re-image/re-install of any factory images, that's the point, I think Motorola recently did something similar with the Moto X/Moto G line as well, like an eFuse that once "blown" does fully lock down the device making it all but useless. Trying to re-install a factory image with any method (done through fastboot or even RSDLite) is disabled so that basically curbs people from dealing with stolen devices all around.

I don't know if using custom ROMs (on Android, of course) will offer any sort of protection from such practices, most likely not as any attempts to get online with such devices surely points the companies in the right direction to just issue the remote lock down command sooner or later.

One reason I just won't bother with Windows Phone - whereas I was a heavy Windows Mobile user from day one many many years ago - is the lock down they have; same situation for me with iOS and iPhones nowadays, I'm just not interested in a company having that much control over a device I own even if they did make it - once I buy it (I don't do contract crap) it's mine and I can do whatever I want with it.

I don't know about this. I kind of like the stories the someone got arrested because the owner of the phone found stupid pictures and selfies of the person that stole his phone in his cloud account. :p

Actually this is good news!

o0MattE0o said,

All they can't do is make the device completely inoperable, but then a quick reimage on any phone can get past this feature...

Unless if the feature goes by IMEI or Serial Number; that even when the phone is wipe and restore, it will be not able to conduct an activation unless you unlock it from Find My Phone or other services that you might be using.

It is just like a stolen credit card. If stolen and reported, and someone uses it, the merchant will be notified that they can take possession of the CC. I hope that carriers could actually do something similar if someone tried to activate a stolen phone.