Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Mobile Phone Security Challenge

Today sees the launch of a national search for designers to develop new ways of securing mobile phones against thieves and fraudsters, as research shows that 80% of phones contain data which 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 4 in 10 people currently lock their mobiles using a PIN. Such data includes website passwords, bookmarks, emails, personal security data and locations/addresses on map applications.

The deadline for applications is Friday 22nd May. Short-listed applicants will present to the expert panel on Friday 27th June, and the four finalists will be announced on Monday 29th June. The teams will develop prototypes over six months involving a process of review and advice from the expert panel. Four prototypes will be showcased in early 2010. More details of the Challenge can be found at

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.”

Previous advances in technology have led to unexpected new forms of crime; email heralded the phenomenon of ‘phishing’, ATMs precipitated the new crime of ‘card catching’ and online banking gave rise to ‘key logging’, used by fraudsters to track the input of secret passwords and account numbers. However, there are also many examples of technology being applied successfully to reduce crime – for example, British Crime Survey figures show theft of vehicles has reduced by 51% since 1997 as a result of improved security being designed into the vehicle, and an evaluation of houses built to the ACPO Secured By Design (SBD) standards showed that these experience 26% less crime than non SBD houses, and residents fear of crime is lower.

The Mobile Phone Security Challenge will be steered by a group of leading specialists:

· CHAIR: Simon Waterfall, Co-founder, POKE

· Steve Babbage, Security Technologies Manager & Group Chief Cryptographer, Vodafone Group R&D

· Mark Delaney, Director, Connect Design, Nokia

· Josh Dhaliwal, Co-founder, Mobile Youth

· Richard Martin, Business Security Consultant, APACS

· Joe McGeehan, Managing Director, Toshiba Research Lab and Professor of Communications and Engineering at the University of Bristol

· Dr Walter Tuttlebee, Executive Director, Mobile VCE

So that’s not bad then, a prize fund of £400k and will be supported to get to prototype and production stage. If this is your area of expertise, then I’d say it could be worth a shot.

I would like to see a woman in the steering group though. My hunch is that women have a very different response to security concerns than men do. I also believe that women and men respond differently to technology and that should be accounted for in the design process, but that’s one for another day.

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