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Symantec reports half of 'lost' smartphones are returned

updated 01:05 am EDT, Wed March 14, 2012

But not before trying to get personal data

Anti-virus and security software maker Symantec decided to conduct an experiment to see if lost smartphones would be returned, and discovered a few surprising facts and common-sense tips along the way. While the chances of retrieving a deliberately-stolen smartphone are slim (but improved with the iPhone's "Find My iPhone" app), lost phones had a better return rate, as nearly half of the phones lost by Symantec were returned.

Calling the experiment the Smartphone Honey Stick Project, the security firm set up the phones with false information and files that might arouse the curiosity of those who found the phones, along with an app that would appear to the user to remotely access a corporate server, along with tracking software. Though the firm has a vested interest in making consumers worry about the safety of their data when a phone is lost or stolen, the experiment uncovered that most finders did indeed attempt to access information that was clearly not part of an effort to simply find or contact the rightful owner.

The company "lost" 50 smartphones of various types in public places in New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Ottawa, Canada. The phones were deliberately set with no passwords. All but two of the 50 phones were accessed by the people who found them, and although all had a contact called "Me" with owner information and a number to call, only 25 out of 50 "finders" contacted the owner.

Sixty percent of the finders attempted to view the lost phones' e-mail accounts and social media information, while 80 percent tried to access corporate files (marked as things such as "HR Salaries" and "HR files"). Fifty percent tried to reach the corporate server through the fake "Remote Admin" app, and some 43 percent attempted to access the owners' bank account.

Symantec itself points out that two simple security measures -- a password on the lock screen, and the ability to remotely wipe the lost phone -- would prevent such access. Apple's iPhones and most Android smartphones offer both abilities, and the iPhone can also send a message to a lost iPhone urging the finder to contact them. A third suggestion by the company is not to keep a smartphone in the same places as other valuables, such as a purse.

By Electronista Staff
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  1. UmarOMC

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Aug 2001


    And only the iPhone link included...

    "...password on the lock screen, and the ability to remotely wipe the lost phone..."

  1. chefpastry

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: Nov 2005



    They certainly don't live where I live...

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001


    Re: And only....

    because that's the only link, for some reason. But, as it says, most phones offer both capabilities. Certainly almost all phones have access codes.

    Of course, remote wipe for the iphone requires a mobileme/icloud account, which until last year cost money to get, as well.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Jan 2007


    Found a phone once.

    I did take a peak around, but mostly to try to identify the owner. I found only one contact that made sense to call: "Dad."

    Called that contact and "Dad" came by to pick it up. The phone had been lost the night before I called.

    My lock screen background has a phone number to call "if found..." (no. it's not the cell phone number of the same phone ;)

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