National search for creation of crime-proof mobiles launched

The Home Office and the Design Council have launched a national search for designers to develop new ways of securing mobile phones against thieves and fraudsters. The move comes on the back of research that shows that 80% of phones contain data that can be used by criminals to access bank accounts, steal identity, or sell on personal data.

The Mobile Phone Security Challenge is offering a total of £400,000 to designers and technology experts to come up with new ways of securing handsets, the data they contain, and their future use as electronic wallets when m-commerce technology is introduced in the UK.

The challenge is part of Design out Crime, an initiative from the Home Office Design & Technology Alliance Against Crime and the Design Council. The Mobile Phone Security Challenge is supported by the Technology Strategy Board.

Applicants will submit a tender outlining how they will approach the challenge and identifying any relevant experience they may have. Once selected by a panel of experts, the teams will be allocated money for research and development from the £400,000 fund, and spend six months developing designs and working prototypes in one or more of three key areas: Making mobile phone handsets harder or less desirable to steal; Making the data stored on mobile phones harder or less desirable to steal; Making future m-commerce transactions secure and fraud proof.

They will produce market-ready applications which may include hardware and software for handsets, new services and other innovations, which will be showcased and promoted by early 2010, with a view to their widespread and rapid take up by the market.

A recent survey found that 80% of people carry information on their mobile phone handsets that could be used by criminals to commit fraud, and 16% keep their bank details saved on their phone, yet only four in 10 people currently lock their mobiles using a PIN. Such data includes website passwords, bookmarks, emails, personal security data and locations and addresses on map applications.

Sebastian Conran, chair of the Design & Technology Alliance Against Crime said: “This challenge is the result of work undertaken last year when we engaged young victims of crime, police, mobile industry experts and designers to understand current and future issues regarding mobile phone crime. The Alliance has prioritised five areas and is working hard to deliver insights that the UK’s design and technology sector can use to deliver innovative solutions to reduce the instances of crime and antisocial behaviour. This is one of the early results of our work; there’s more to come.”

Home Office Minister, Alan Campbell, said: “We are committed to tackling and preventing crime in all forms. The rapidly developing nature of mobile technology means we must continue to work together to eliminate any future opportunities for criminals to profit from mobile phone theft. It is vital that as new technologies are developed key safeguards are incorporated at the drawing board stage.

“The Design and Technology Alliance and competitions like this are a key part of the government’s drive for a greater emphasis on designing out crime. By bringing together experts from industry and design we will continue to deliver innovative and practical solutions to real problems. We have already seen successes such as the introduction of chip and pin which has helped to reduce fraud on lost or stolen cards to its lowest total since the industry started collating fraud loss figures in 1991,” he concluded.