Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lose a phone, expect to lose your privacy, too

  • Print

TORONTO -- If you've ever wondered what would happen if you lost your phone in public, a study conducted by an Ottawa-based security researcher suggests there's one thing you can almost surely count on: a complete violation of your privacy.

Sorry, but it's extremely unlikely someone will pick up your phone and return it without first combing through your apps, photos, email and anything else that may be accessible without a password.

And the odds of getting your phone back are basically a coin toss, according to the report by Scott Wright of Security Perspectives Inc., and the security software company Symantec.

Wright "accidentally" dropped 10 cellphones throughout his hometown and four major U.S. cities as part of his experiment. Each phone was left unlocked and the "owner's" contact information was easily accessible.

He fully expected he'd never see many of them again and was counting on nosy people poking through the phones.

But he didn't expect the results would be so dramatic. Of the 50 phones he left in Los Angeles, New York, Ottawa, San Francisco and Washington D.C. -- in phone booths, elevators, outside restaurants, in transit stations, on newspaper boxes and in public washrooms -- only 25 were picked up by people who made an attempt to return the devices.

But even those Good Samaritans couldn't help themselves.

Wright was watching remotely as 96 per cent of the "lost" smartphones were accessed and as the finders poked through apps labelled with names like online banking, webmail, corporate email, remote admin and "private pix." The apps would launch but gave an error message -- which just encouraged people to repeatedly try and try again.

"I was a little surprised to see the numbers as high as they were," said Wright, who conducted a similar experiment a few years back with USB sticks and found about 65 per cent of finders tried to access files on it.

If there was any good news in the experiment results for Canadians, it was that more phones were returned in Ottawa than anywhere else. Seven of the 10 phones dropped in the nation's capital were picked up by people who called to say they found them, compared to just three in New York.

In Ottawa, phones that finders made an attempt to return were left: on a window ledge outside a restaurant, in the elevator of an office building, in a transit station,in a condo parking lot elevator, outside a government building, in a university washroom and in a food court.

But Wright was still disturbed by how much those phones were used before and after contact was made. In the case of the phone found at the transit station, the finder appeared to kill time during a long commute by repeatedly going through the phone's every nook and cranny.

The phone was dropped at about 4:05 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon in February and it took just over five minutes for someone to start probing it. Within minutes, the person was trying to access pictures, the social networking app, email and other programs. Another 20 minutes later, the finder finally placed a call and left a message saying they'd found the phone. But they kept playing with it. Over the next several days, the phone's banking, corporate and photo apps were repeatedly clicked again and again.

Symantec's director of security technology and response, Kevin Haley, said he was surprised and disappointed by the numbers. "Curiosity is a really powerful force and people will troll for your information if they discover your phone."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2012 A16

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Maurice Leggett on his three interceptions vs. Alouettes

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / Jan 10  2011 ‚Äì WEB STDUP ‚Äì Frosty morning at -15 degrees C , in pic frost covers the the Nellie McClung statue  on the MB Legislature grounds at 7am
  • A water lily in full bloom is reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What do you think of the new school-zone speed limit?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google