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UK Firm To Release 'Screaming' Cell Phone 230

rubberbando writes "Yahoo news is running a story about a plan by a UK cell phone company to help reduce cell theft. Apparently, this new cell phone can be sent a signal after its owner has realized that it has been lost or stolen. The signal tells the phone to wipe all of its data and begin emitting a very loud and obnoxious sound. The sound will only stop if the battery runs out or is removed, but it will begin again as soon as the battery is replaced or charged. Even replacing the sim card will not help."
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UK Firm To Release 'Screaming' Cell Phone

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:34AM (#16288647)
    It sounds from the description that these phones will become functionally useless once you do this to them. What a fun prank to pull on your friends!
    • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:40AM (#16288695)
      Even better, imagine what will happen if their system is less than secure. Try and think about the damage a script kiddie could do if he got ahold of a list of people's passwords and phone numbers.

      Or, even worse, if he found out how to send the signal to the phones sans password - after all, if the company is lazy, then maybe all they'd do is dial up the cell phone and send a general purpose "kill" signal. Figure out how to tell the cellphone that it's stolen while still in the possession of its owner, and you can make somebody very, very mad.
      • by Jaruzel ( 804522 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:13AM (#16289129) Homepage Journal
        The kill signal will probably be in the format of a special (Operator) SMS text message. Much in the same way your Internet settings can be sent by your provider over the air (OTA) to your phone.

        However, I had an app a while back that could 'build' Operator SMS messages and send them out to peoples phones, so yeah, unless the Operator takes serious steps to secure this system, it's gonna be hacked in no time. Once hacked, the concept will be useless, and the manufacturers will stop including the kill-system in the firmware...

      • especially if the owner is in a movie theater.
      • Yes, I'm sure the potential for malicious use never crossed the engineers' minds while they were working on this protection mechanism.
        • I'm sure it did, and maybe some of them even let their managers know, and maybe some of those let the business/marketing departments know. That's where the knowing stopped and the engineers and managers were told to leave the business decisions to the professionals.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Itchy Rich ( 818896 )

        Try and think about the damage a script kiddie could do if he got ahold of a list of people's passwords and phone numbers.

        I doubt they'll need script kiddies to screw this up for them.

    • THis was on the Reg a good while ago. It was even on the New Zealand news site by this morning.

      News is supposed to be new.

    • Planned obsolescence ... that's a bit like linking to Yahoo! News; the story can also be permanently read at Reuters [reuters.co.uk] for posterity's sake. Think of the slashdot grandchildren!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by joNDoty ( 774185 )
      The article says the system also automatically backs up everything on your phone once per day. If your phone gets wiped, everything can be reloaded. I'm patting myself on the back now for reading TFA.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:35AM (#16288651)
    And I thought cell phones were already loud and obnoxious...
  • So basically... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tuxedo Jack ( 648130 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:36AM (#16288663) Homepage
    There's a hardware GUID. Whoopdy-do; if there's a remote method to turn it on via software, there's a method to turn it off via software.
    • I pray the cell phone companies do this, then a virus gets a few million of them at once. I don't know who would scream louder, the phones or the owners.
    • Re:So basically... (Score:5, Informative)

      by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:42AM (#16288715)
      Not necessarily. If it writes an "I'm disabled" flag to some place in the onboard NOR flash, and the loader reads this to decide whether to proceed with a boot or not, you'd have to rewrite the loader or the NOR flash in order to turn it off. Pulling all the power wouldn't help since the flash is designed to hold data when the power is out.

      If you have the tools to rewrite the NOR flash, then you can indeed turn off the alarm with software. The software will be external to the phone and will have to use some hardware connection to it, though.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Cell phones (GSM at least) Already have a GUID which is transmitted all the time while the phone is switched on.

      It is easy for operators to track the position of a stolen cellphone down to about a meter if they wanted to.

      They have used this to track down the polish kid who knifed someone to death over an iPod.

      If you have a cellphone and it's switched on, it's transmitting a guid and position continuously, always.

      This is why I think the spat in the UK about ID cards is silly, most people in the UK own a c
      • Cell phones (GSM at least) Already have a GUID which is transmitted all the time while the phone is switched on.

        It is easy for operators to track the position of a stolen cellphone down to about a meter if they wanted to.

        Cellphones, including GSM phones, have a variety of Ids (the IMEI and the IMSI), but they're not transmitted "all the time"; they're periodically transmitted, such as when the phone is switched on, and when the phone moves from the range of towers connected to one Mobile Switching Ce

    • Its a nice idea but many of the previous attempts to disable or block phones that were stolen are easily worked around. Most stolen phones that are blocked can easily be reenabled by flashing them with a new firmware which changes the phones IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number. This unique number is is used for among other things identify phones that are reported stolen. Blocking the SIM card is easily circumvented by changing the SIM. Unless phones are designed with the IMEI set at the
    • ... there are also ways to unlock stolen phones. Where I think this screaming phone noise will come in handy is not in catching the thief themselves. No, it'll be more useful in prosecuting reprogrammers. After all, you can claim you didn't know a phone you unlocked was stolen, but you can't really ignore a phone that's making a colossal screaming noise, which makes it as stolen. Any doubt goes right out of the window.
  • Obnoxious? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fembot ( 442827 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:36AM (#16288669)
    The thing I don't get is how exactly they expect this to be any more loud and obnoxious than all these damn ringtones are already!
  • by mctk ( 840035 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:38AM (#16288679) Homepage
    If cell phones could scream, would we be so cavalier about smashing them on the ground? We might, if they screamed all the time for no good reason.
  • by macadamia_harold ( 947445 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:39AM (#16288685) Homepage
    The signal tell the phone to wipe all of its data and begin emitting a very loud and obnoxious sound.

    Isn't this what happens if Paris Hilton calls you?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by banuk ( 148382 )
      Isn't this what happens if Paris Hilton calls you?

      You're wrong, it doesnt happen to your cellphone, it happens to your brain when she calls.
  • by CosmeticLobotamy ( 155360 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:40AM (#16288699)
    "We also then set a small bomb off, if you like, that completely wipes the data...

    As well as the ear and most of the face of the thief? Seems a little harsh.
  • by Vihai ( 668734 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:42AM (#16288713) Homepage
    I would prefer if the phone could silently send me a usage report so that I could track who stole it and kick him in the a....
    • What good would the usage report do? You may be able to see what the thief did, but how would you track the mobile phone? Now, if it sent a GPS signal to you, that'd be different.
    • Actually, if your phone is GSM, then you can already do that.
      First and foremost, you must write down your IMEI number [wikipedia.org]. Simply type *#06# into your cell phone. It may look like: AA-BBBBBB-CCCCCC-D . That is the serial number of the phone, and it will not change if the SIM is changed. Write it down into a safe place.
      When your phone is stolen, report that number to the police. They will report it to the providers, that will lock down the cell phone [gsmworld.com] for good; moreover, if the phone is ever turned on, they may be able to track the thief whereabouts, using standard cell tecnology; that, and an identikit, may actually help them arrest the thief.
      A friend of mine, (who is in IT business) did all of the above, and she really had the thief arrested and prosecuted.
      • awesome! (Score:5, Funny)

        by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @05:44AM (#16289251)
        First and foremost, you must write down your IMEI number. Simply type *#06# into your cell phone. It may look like: AA-BBBBBB-CCCCCC-D . That is the serial number of the phone, and it will not change if the SIM is changed. Write it down into a safe place.

        Excellent! I am writing the number down right now in the memo pad application on my cell phone!

      • The police will NOT track down stolen IMEIs. This is the problem. Even if it would be quite easy: look who the SIM owner is, look who is he calling, go there and put him in jail.

        What happens now? The IMEI (hopefully) is put in the blacklist, the thief changes the IMEI (yes, it is feasible on most phones), the phone works again.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Their are posters from the Met Police all over London telling people to write down their IMEI numbers and report them in the instance of theft. They're making more effort than they were.
      • ..and he sais serial numbers are the ONLY way of the police getting your stuff back. Where he works, the police holds a big database of serials of stolen stuff. If they bust a suspected thief, they check everything in his house against the database. So whenever you buy a flatscreen, PC, TV or whatever, ALWAYS write down the serial. I just take a picture of the ID plate, print it on a B/W laser, holds forever.
    • by Renraku ( 518261 )
      ..so you can get arrested for assault.

      You're expected to let the police take 6+ weeks to recover a stolen item.
    • Doesn't "usage" imply that he's running up your phone bill? I think this sounds like a good start, if not the best way of taking care of the problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Let's face it, a good proportion of "stolen" phones are people that want a free upgrade from the network. Oh look, they don't make that model any more, and coincidentally I was mugged today. Like the person that rung from the phone that was being reported stolen.
    • by crossmr ( 957846 )
      How is this remotely interesting. Is there any evidence at all to indicate what percentage of stolen phones are actually people trying ot get free upgrades? a half-guess isn't exactly interesting.
  • The police used to do this in the Netherlands; when a phone was reported stolen, it would be sent an SMS every five minutes, saying: 'this phone is stolen'. That would require the thief to change the SIM card, which would make his action less than free (gratis).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      But as anybody can locate a SIM in the cell to which it transmits, sensible thieves replace SIMs anyway.
      • by morie ( 227571 )
        It didn't work to replace the sim, they used the IMEI to identify the phone (no tech details on how to do that, sorry) and used a "SMS-bomb"
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hankwang ( 413283 ) *

      in the Netherlands ... would require the thief to change the SIM card, which would make his action less than free (gratis).

      Well, they used the IMEI [wikipedia.org] number of the phone that is tied to the hardware, although someone with the rights skills might be able to change the flash memory where it's stored. (By the way, you can see the number by typing *#06#). It requires cooperation of the mobile phone providers though, that should have a blacklist of stolen IMEI numbers and take appropriate action as soon as a sto

  • by d3m0nCr4t ( 869332 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:51AM (#16288761)
    Screaming Jay Hawkins... "I put a spell on you, cause you're mine."
  • How long till... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by KTheorem ( 999253 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @03:57AM (#16288785)
    How long will it be until something like this is implemented to "punish" those that are late on paying their bill or for people who decide they want to switch service providers?
    • by dabadab ( 126782 )
      Jesus, is this +5, Interesting?
      Of course that would be just as illegal as sending out hitmen in the abovementioned cases.
    • "Interesting" rating? o.0 Will the wonders of /. ever end?

      Lets see..

      Late paying: Service turned off... that sends a better message to the user alredy.

      Want to switch: If you switch inside your contract.. they already sock you with fees. And if you are switching providers.. you are probably also switching phones so that nulls that issue.
  • Given the incredible security with cells these days, I can't wait for the next time I get pestered by some godforsaken ringtone in the movies and being able to replace the audible pollution with something else. Maybe more annoying, granted, but I do trust the owner that he will quickly shut down the phone. If not, he'll be removed from the theatre.

    I call that a win-win.
  • Can you imagine all the chaos that these screaming cell phones would cause in an airport or airplane? Terrorists will no longer need to physically blow up a plane to disrupt air traffic with these screaming babies going off.
  • by badfish99 ( 826052 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:09AM (#16288819)
    So someone stole a phone, and now it is making a very loud unpleasant noise. So they have dumped it near my house and it is still making the noice and I am very annoyed. So I hit it with a brick until it stops.

    Question: who gets taken to court? The phone manufacturer, for creating a noise nuisance? Or the thief, for stealing the phone? Or me, for damaging someone else's property?

    I know the answer: it will be me, won't it?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:24AM (#16288885)
      The brick manufacturer for making an unsafe product.
    • In your juristiction, is it illegal to take a brick to a discarded telephone that you found near your house? I would imagine that the police would not involve you at all unless somebody calls the police and can identify you, or the police were to happen by while you were smahing the phone.

      Although these days, if the police saw you with a brick and a screaming cell phone, you probably needn't worry about going to court; they would probably just consider you to be a terrorist with a bomb. http://news.bbc.co. [bbc.co.uk]
  • I lost my mobile 3 times over a period of a few years. Yes the same one. Every time some saint returned it to the local police station and I'd get it back. Quite amazing considering the inner city area I live in Sydney.

    But I can just imagine them feeling all gooey inside about the good deed they are about to do ... then suddenly this phone starts screaming like a Blitzkreig air raid, and in the panic they stomp my phone into a fine power and run off traumatised !! Fat lot of good THAT feature would do me
    • by Riktov ( 632 )
      Your phones were lost, not robbed. If someone points a gun at you and demands your phone, you're not going to expect it to be returned by some saint, are you?
    • Yeah, I was thinking exactly the same thing: I don't see how this alarm ads anything to your security! I mean, the first thing the thief will do is smash your phone if it starts making a terrible noise. Much better would be this: When it detects that it's stolen, it makes a calls the service provider to check its location - and maybe then reports its own sim card # and model # at an automated police voicemail number. Then it would just get stuck showing the following message: "Please place this phone in a m
  • The estate of Edvard Munch plans to sue for breach of copyright.
  • Too late! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Toreo asesino ( 951231 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @04:19AM (#16288865) Journal
    This isn't innovation! Anyone that lives in the UK will know that not only was this done yonks ago [wikipedia.org], but it even made it into the Top of the Pops [crazyfroghits.com] when it came out.
  • i am assuming that once a cellphone is stolen, they alert the cell provider to send the phone a signal. the provider probably just has a database and a set of commands to send

    so can you imagine the mischief if that provider's system is gamed/ hacked? and the mischief makers initiate a "call all cell phones" iteration?

    depending upon the percentage of cell phones that have this feature, you could cause mass havoc across the entire country
    • so can you imagine the mischief if that provider's system is gamed/ hacked?

      I am sure that could happen now.

    • If they have that kind of access, what is to prevent them from just sending a call and text message to every phone at once. I think a bunch of different ring tones would be even worse than a single tone. Either way, they will be prosecuted as terrorist. No, I am not exagerating, their are already a few cases where someone was tried as a terrorist for messing with the phone system, because it might have prevented a 911 call from going through.
  • Screaming not annoying enough for you? The next version will randomly spew a stream of urine.
  • The system also automatically backs up data held on a device once a day, meaning users can re-load their information onto a replacement handset.
  • a time to trot out my connections, and link to my friend's startup [tencube.com] that provides a similar solution.

    Here's the clincher, though: they even have a beta.

    • by mgblst ( 80109 )
      It looks like your mate uses a J2ME solution, which is really not up to scratch. It is so easy to stop j2me software from running, just press hangup. I am not sure that this will be able to disable the phone. I am hoping the article describes a hardware solution, much better option.
  • ...Unlike computer, cell phone hardware and firmware are 100% bug-free and reliable, and wireless connections are digital and therefore perfect with no error rate at all. Therefore, we need not contemplate the possibility of false positives ever triggering this feature accidentally.

    Heck, why stop at an irritating noise? Have it trip a little relay that will short out the battery and make it explode. That will show them!
  • This is yet another one-trick pony. Basically, a few years ago, desperate investors, not yet burnt enough by the dotcom boom, realised they should be backing "mobile" ventures. Anything would do, as long as it was "mobile".

    Note that these guys charge £100 / year ($220). Given that the average mobile would cost £200 to replace (tops, brand new) and you get a free one every year or two with a contract - they are suggesting you pay an insurance premium of c. 50% of the phone value, for a phon
    • I'm pretty sure they are marketing this at execs who have minimum $600 phones and have data worth vast amounts of money in the right persons' hands stored within it.

      Also it's not important that it backs up the data... that's a bonus... it's important that it wipes the data on the phone immediately after backing it up.

      Think "This message will self-destruct in 10..." but instead of blowing up the phone (which could lead to a lawsuit) it wipes the data and makes the phone really annoying to be around.

      IMHO they
  • Good feature (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pryonic ( 938155 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @06:32AM (#16289485)
    It would be handy if I could remotely set this off for people who feel it's necessary to play tinny RnB MP3s through their phones on long train journies. The scream would probably sound better than that noise, or may convince them just to turn the damn thing off.

    Am I the only person that finds this new 'trend' amongst teenagers on trains antisocial and inconsiderate?

  • Further reports tell us that the "screaming" sound file to be played when the system is activated is a well-known quote from a popular movie:

    Listen to sample. [ytmnd.com]

  • ... "Baby Phone" :-)

  • I need a new ringtone.
  • Last I checked, the majority of cellphone thefts are not for the phone; rather they're for the SIM card so the thief (or another related party) can make phone calls at least until the original owner realizes the SIM's gone, or until they manage to run the gamut of cell provider's customer support lines and get it disabled.

    Honestly, my phone is not that valuable to me. I don't keep any data on it that I don't back up... and while it would suck to lose my phone (because of the cost of replacement), I'm more c
    • by Detritus ( 11846 )
      There's a huge market for the export of stolen phones. Where do you think that they get all of the cheap second-hand phones sold in third-world countries?
  • I guess it's an easy way to find my phone when I loose it in the house. I can always re-sync the numbers from my PC. That is, unless you can't turn off the "stolen scream." If that's the case I promise you have at least 2 screaming phones every day standing in line for service at the local dealer because they thought the phone was stolen, but found it under the bed or something. What aout the moron that leaves their phone at the office. Everyone is quietly working and a cell phone that was left at work star
  • You have to call in that your phone is stolen... ;-p

    A real British comedy would be someone getting their phone stolen and then stealing someone else's phone to call in their report which would lead to that person stealing a phone to call in the theft of their phone and so on... and they all get hauled in to the station and have to explain what happened.... all bloody yelling at each other and the cops about what a degenerate society they live in... roll credits ;-p
  • Just wait for the court cases when friends or family are injured by these booby-trapped phones. They borrowed/found the phone, and someone forgot to tell/remind/remember that the loan/find took place, or the borrower/finder tries to call the owner's other line to return it.

  • By far the most common thing is for people to misplace their phones - leave them in a restaurant, on a bus, whatever. And people being largely honest, they are quite often returned.

    Now imagine if every good samaritan had to put up with the damn thing screaming, and everyone staring at them thinking "thief"... You can forget getting your phone back now! The logical course on finding a misplaced phone will be to smash the thing to smithereens now, so it can't start screaming at three AM and wake up every

  • When you're taking off or landing. That way it's a Federal Crime if you get up to fix it. The loud noise will of course be construed to be terrorism. Old people and soccermoms will freak out. Some swarthy dude will get tasered. A fun time will be had by all. Let's Roll, Bitches.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun