I want to create an unstealable phone.
I want to create an "un-steal-able" phone.
Of course this is impossible, but I want to make it as difficult as possible for thieves to get away with it, and as easy as possible for me to find it.
- Phone has available call and text messaging service.
- Phone has internet capabilities and "permanent" Internet access. (We will consider 2G, 3G, or 4G cellular access with a data plan to be permanent. Depending on an open WiFi network to be available at all times is unreliable).
- Phone is on and has some charge in its battery. (If the phone is off, we can't do anything).
- Phone has an accurate GPS receiver.
- Software that relays GPS coordinates via an Internet connection. As a backup for when there is no cellular data signal, software that relay GPS coordinates via SMS
- Software cannot be disabled or removed without authentication.
- GPS on phone cannot be turned off without authentication (alternative: remote activation of GPS receiver via Internet or SMS)
- Cellular data and/or WiFi cannot be turned off without authentication (alternative: remote activation of cellular data via SMS)
- Where GPS signal can be used for macro location (within 10 to 30 meters), there must be some method of micro location (within a few feet).
- Phone cannot be powered off via any button press, on-screen menu, or removal of battery
- Phone cannot be wiped by on-screen menu or by computer cable connection
Now I have approached this solution from two starting points: the iPhone running iOS, or an Android-based smartphone. Both have different advantages and technical details. Let's look at how we can meet each of these requirements one by one.
- Unfortunately, if your iPhone is not jailbroken, your choices are not so great. But FindMyiPhone does do the basic job of relaying GPS coordinates. For a jailbroken iPhone, iCaughtu seems to be the best of the bunch from the research I have done and gives you a bunch of cool anti-theft features.
- Using the options under Settings -> General -> Restrictions, you can disallow users from deleting apps AND from turning off location services. Of course, you can accomplish something similar by simple setting a password to access your phone. Unfortunately I haven't yet seen any program that allows you to remotely activate the GPS receiver on an iPhone.
- Unfortunately I don't think there is anyway to prevent a thief from disabling your cellular connection other than setting a password on the whole phone. This has its advantages and disadvantages.* Similarly, I don't see any way to remotely activate the Cellular Data on an iPhone via SMS.
- This is where things start to get more complex and we need to start thinking of actually modding the phone. So far the best RF tracking solution I have found (in terms of size, cost, and effectiveness) is a cheap chinese-made product that I picked up in Asia and cannot find a link to. This one is very similar http://www.amazon.com/Loc8tor-LTD-Lo...dp/B0012GMDC4/ but the reviews are meh. It is RF-based but does not really give any directional information. Once you are close to the RF transmitter (using the GPS coordinates), you can use the RF receiver to basically play a little game of hot and cold and walk in different directions all while watching if the signal gets stronger or weaker. I've done two real world field test with the similar device and was able to successfully find a purposely concealed bag in a slum twice.
But how do we get this into the phone? If you disassemble the transmitter, it is a very small circuit board, but most phones these days are already packed to the brim. Additionally, these units need power, so you would need to solder it into the phone's power system.
- For the iPhone, concerns about a battery-based shutdown are reduced by its "sealed" battery compartment. Of course, with the right tools, someone can get to the battery. But this is not likely to happen quickly and will likely occur in a specific home or shop, from which we can get coordinate data. We only need to delay the thieves long enough to track them. The bad news is that preventing an iPhone from being shutdown via button press is much more difficult. Even with a lockscreen password, anyone can turn off an iPhone with a long power/sleep button press. I found a mod on Cydia that required a password before any shutdown, but it seemed it was only compatible with iOS 5 and I am running iOS 6.
- This is the most challenging problem, as the most common method for any experienced phone thief to avoid detection is simply to power off the phone (or disable internet/3G) and as quickly as possible get to a computer and perform a complete wipe using any number of computer programs. A password on the phone can prevent access to the menu options for resetting factory default, but very little can prevent a thief from physically connecting the phone to a computer and wiping it.
Again I turn to physical modding. Would it be possible to modify the iPhone connector in such a way that the pins for power and charging would still work, but the pins for a data connection would require a specially modified cable to conect to the computer? Once my phone is through its initial setup and/or, most anything I need to do as far as data can be accomplished via WiFi. If needed, I would keep my special data cable at my home only and never take it out. But losing the ability to charge from any iPhone cable would be too debilitating to daily usage.
So I ask the experts: how can I improve on or solve these ideas? Is there software out there that I don't know about, either on the App Store or the Cydia Store? Are there ways to remotely control the iPhone's wireless and GPS functions via text? There should be. Any ideas on incorporating a tiny RF transmitter into the iPhone? Is there any way to prevent an iPhone from being shut down via the sleep button? Is there anyway to sabotage the lightning connector in an intelligent way to prevent a computer-based wipe?
*Advantages and Disadvantage of a phone-wide password. Honestly, I would rather not have a lockscreen password on my phone. I'm not a privacy freak and I don't care if a thief sees my pictures of e-mails or Facebook. If my phone is stolen, I'm hoping it is stolen by an idiot and that they WON'T try to wipe the phone. None of my solutions are foolproof. Everything in here is about delaying the thief long enough to track them. If an idiot steals a phone without a password, he MIGHT just use it as is. But if an idiot steals a phone and can't doing ANYTHING with it, he is going to take it to someone who will be smart enough to wipe it MUCH SOONER. Of course, the disadvantage is a loss of privacy, but iCaughtu has a cool solution for that too.
- Android phones are much easier to root, and software solutions exist that will work reasonably well even for nonrooted phones. The best software I have seen is Avast! Anti-theft (part of Mobile Security), AndroidLost, and Cerebrus. All of these can report GPS coordinates, and with Avast! at least, you can also see coordinate history online and actually follow the path of your phone through the minutes, hours, and/or days. AndroidLost can report GPS coordinates online OR via SMS!
- Avast! cannot be removed without a pin code. It can also prevent the user from during off Cellular Data and GPS. AndroidLost can be used to activate WiFi, Cellular Data and/or GPS via internet command OR via SMS. There are a ton of other internet-based and SMS commands in AndroidLost as well. Even without an active lockscreen password, a thief would be powerless to disable communication between the tracking software and you. In this department, Android truly outshines the iOS solution.
- Getting an RF tracker into an Android-based phone has the same challenges as an iPhone.
- I haven't found ANY glimmer of hope for a mode to disable shutdown via a long-button-press on Android. At least I found one mod for iPhone, even if it was the wrong iOS version. This is a huge gap in the goal of building an "unstealable" phone for both operating systems. As for the battery: Android phones come in many flavors. Many have removable batteries, so if you want to make life more difficult for thieves you'll have to limit yourself to a phone with a "sealed" battery compartment such as the HTC One.
- A computer-based wipe via USB cable presents the same challenges as an iPhone EXCEPT that we're dealing with a more standard interface so that MIGHT make modding an easier task. Is there any way to make the microUSB jack more "proprietary" so that any normal USB cable can charge it but only a specially one can transmit data?
There is one other detailed I am interested in, but which is, I believe, currently impossible since it would require modifications to the lowest level of the phone's software, and that would be an auto-on feature. If the phone's battery dies for any reason (or any other shutdown that is not user-initiated), I would love for the phone to automatically power back on whenever it receives a new power source (either being plugged into the wall or getting a fresh battery).
Why am I so interested in doing this? I live in a third-world country and I travel to many other third-world countries. For 3 years, I guess I had good luck, but in the past year I have had three phones and a laptop stolen from me on the street and I have been punched in the face. Several of my friends have also had phones stolen during that time, and one friend was even kidnapped and robbed. Maybe crime is getting worse or maybe it is just coincidence. I have tried to be more careful each time, but one should not live life in fear or blame ones carelessness alone. It is time to fight back. Money, time, memories, self-respect, and peace of mind have been taken away from me and from people I care about. These thieves bear the real responsibility for these crimes. And the police and government here is largely unwilling, incapable, uncaring, and/or corrupt. Maybe I can help others as well.
Thanks for your suggestions and input.