This Phone Will Self-Destruct In 3... 2...
By Mike Masnick, Thu Mar 03 02:15:00 GMT 2005

With a brand new hype around mobile phone security threats, companies are rushing out all sorts of new security features on phones, including the ability to destroy its contents remotely. Of course, the number of people who might actually need such a feature may be pretty small.

In the wake of the Paris Hilton Sidekick hacking more people began to question the whole idea having mobile phone data backed up in a "safe" place somewhere. While the idea seems like a good one, that backup data just becomes one more target of attack for security holes.

It's no surprise, then, to see more vendors looking to address this issue in some manner. Remote management of mobile phones has been getting an increasing amount of attention lately -- but mostly in the enterprise space, where companies want the ability to have some control over handsets they issue employees. There are some consumer remote management applications, such as the one FusionOne offers via Verizon Wireless for backups, which works similar to the way the T-Mobile Sidekick works. It simply backs up the data on the phone and puts it on a server somewhere. That data can then be accessed via the web and downloaded to a new phone, if necessary.

FusionOne added a new feature today, however, which is designed to make this service a bit more useful in the all-to-common situation when someone loses their phone. The phoneless subscriber can log into the web portal and send a self-destruct code that will wipe out the contents of the phone. However, the subscriber will still be able to access the data on the server, and download it so it can safely be installed on a new phone.

Of course, this really is only useful in very specific circumstances. You have to have lost your phone, first of all. Also, the data on your phone has to be so valuable that you want it to self-destruct. Most of us non-celebrities probably don't have too much that's valuable. In fact, if someone stole the phone, it's more likely to wipe out the contents and resell the device -- not the data on it. Assuming the data was so valuable that you would want it to self-destruct, you would also have to make sure it self-destructed before anyone saw it -- which might not be that easy. Most important, however, is that if the phone was just lost, many people would probably prefer that their data remain on the phone because it would help any kind individuals who find the phone and want to return it.

While FusionOne certainly doesn't present this as a solution the Hilton situation (where it wouldn't have helped anyway, since the hackers never had her phone at all, but entered via the web interface), it's only a matter of time before we start seeing more of these solutions claiming that they will protect us from these types of dangers. While mobile security does deserve more attention, people need to think through which solutions are actually useful based on the types of threats they really face.