Smartphone anti-theft sensor system ready for testing

04 June 2014

The phones will be fitted with an emergency lockdown feature

The phones will be fitted with an emergency lockdown feature

A team of researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) is about to trial ‘anti-theft’ smartphones on a test group.

The phones will be fitted with an emergency lockdown feature that activates automatically if it falls into the wrong hands or is targeted by hackers.

As technology becomes more advanced, people are using smartphones to store much more sensitive data than ever before, including personal details, bank codes and cash transaction information, as well as photos and video, emails, call logs and internet histories, all of which can be exploited if the phone is breached or stolen.

The team of researchers has been working on an ambitious project to tighten smartphone security with the development of handsets that ‘learn’ the daily routine of their owners. Any unusual activity or change in environment is then picked up and the phone starts to request explicit authentication (e.g. pin) and starts to restrict access to sensitive data and applications, which may contain payment functions, thereby reducing the phone’s usefulness to thieves.

The smartphone can only be reactivated by the owner, who provides authentication and authorises the change in routine. Initially, this could be done by entering a PIN, though more sophisticated methods of identification which may rely upon inputs from a touch screen, or a built-in camera or microphone, are also being investigated.

The two-year research project is partly funded by a Marie Curie Fellowship through the European FP7 programme.  The project is led by Dr Gunes Kayacik, Dr Mike Just, Professor Lynne Baillie of GCU, and Dr David Aspinall from the University of Edinburgh. The team is also ably assisted by the research work of PhD student Nicholas Micallef.

Professor Baillie said: “We have now just completed the work required in order to prove that this model of authentication can work in theory on mobile phones. We are about to commence with the evaluation of this model on peoples’ phones by deploying it over a period of three weeks.

“Our project will address some of the security risks previously not addressed and hopefully will improve more security and protection for people, safeguarding users and providers of mobile phones.”

For more information regarding the project see: