According to an internal AT&T memo published on The Verge earlier today, AT&T has picked Tuesday, July 10 to launch a service that will allow customers to block all use of a stolen or lost cell phone. The AT&T customer will be able to call the wireless service provider and request that AT&T halt anyone from using the phone for voice calls and texting in addition to consuming data. Rather than making the SIM card completely unusable, the AT&T customer will be able to cancel the blocking process if the phone is recovered from a thief or located after being lost. This program also extends to tablets, thus a AT&T customer that’s lost a tablet using a 3G or 4G data plan will be able to halt a thief from going over the data limit with a video application like Netflix and avoid paying extra charges on the next bill.
While this action will halt anyone from using the device, AT&T customers will still have to use a remote data wipe app to eliminate all private data on a smartphone. Lookout Security & Antivirus and Where’s My Droid are popular remote wipe applications for Android smartphones while iPhone users would likely use Find my iPhone from Apple. This will have to be performed prior to the blocking procedure because data services will be completely shut down.
AT&T hasn’t indicated if the SIM card is simply blacklisted during the process or the phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is used to blacklist the mobile device entirely. It’s likely that AT&T would use the IMEI number as only blocking the SIM card would allow any thief to swap out the card to continue using the phone or tablet.
This new program is part of an initiative announced by the FCC during April that creates a joint blacklist of stolen phones shared between Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. Each carrier is building an internal database over a six-month period. After that point, the databases will be joined together within the following twelve months. Regional carriers also have the option of joining the database during that time frame to get access to the information about blacklisted mobile devices. This service will be free to all customers of the major wireless networks.
Both Verizon Wireless and Sprint have already implemented this service for customers. In a statement released to MSNBC, Verizon Wireless executive director of corporate communications Brenda Raney stated “When a customer reports a stolen or lost cellphone, they can list their phone in a database that will prevent anyone presenting the phone for activation from putting service on the phone.” T-Mobile offers a service that blocks a SIM card from being used on a stolen mobile device, but hasn’t started blocking IMEI numbers in order to make the device completely unusable on the T-Mobile network.
In order to prepare for any potential smartphone or tablet theft, security experts recommend installing a remote wipe application as well as enabling the lock screen. In addition, consumers should write down their 15-digit IMEI number in a safe place and consider using mobile security software to protect against other threats.