Published in Mobiles

Boffins turn all stolen phones into a Samsung Note 7

by on06 March 2017

Still better than an iPhone

Researchers have developed new technology that can prevent stolen phones turning  into a smouldering blob of plastic, or the case of an iPhone a beautiful looking, reassuringly expensive smouldering blob of plastic.

A self destruct mechanism was built by researchers working at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia where caring about physically harming a thief is less of an issue.

It is designed to provide an extra layer of defence against thieves who resell the devices or access the device's sensitive data.

Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, an electrical engineer who helped to develop the technology, told IEEE Spectrum that the technology works quickly, and it can be installed on most modern devices including laptops.

"The first customers would be the ones who need data protection: intelligence communities, corporations, banks, hedge funds, social security administrations, collectors who handle massive data," he said.

The self destruct mechanism consists of an expandable polymer, which crumples the device's chips within a few seconds. When the mechanism is remotely triggered, heater electrodes that draw power from the device's battery activates the polymer, which rapidly expands to seven-times its original size when heated to 80°C (176°F).

The expanding polymer can destroy a silicon chip up to 90 micrometers thick, or just less than 0.1mm.

The researchers say that many different triggers are possible, such as a GPS switch that could activate the self-destruct mechanism if a device is taken outside of a building, for example.

Another example would be a password enabled app that could also remotely activate the trigger, the researchers say.

Each self-destruct mechanism could cost as little as $15 and can be retrofitted, says Hussain.

Last modified on 06 March 2017
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