Security: Dial M for mugging – how to stop iPhone robbers (and keep your date safe too)

iPhones are the hottest accessory — for robbers. A victim of brutal attack says don’t be a mug during or after the crime

If you own an iPhone, you’re twice as likely to be the victim of phone mugging as the user of any other mobile phone. That’s one fact about the iPhone that Apple omits from its glossy advertising campaigns.

According to figures released by the Metropolitan Police, despite accounting for just 14 per cent of mobile phone sales, 28 per cent of phones stolen each year are iPhones. As the victim of a recent iPhone mugging, I experienced at first hand the violent desire some have to steal your iPhone and the ways I could have made it easier for the police to catch the criminal concerned.

I use my iPhone a lot, it’s rarely out of my hand. I’m on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, email and other apps all the time and if you’re a fellow iPhone user, you probably are too. It’s hard to walk down a street in the capital or into a nightclub without noticing scores of people with a shiny Apple device in their hands. But you’re probably not the only person who has recognised a £700 iPhone on display.

My knifepoint mugging didn’t come at the dead of night or in a particularly dangerous part of town. Instead, it was in broad daylight near Chalk Farm Tube, which I was exiting while writing an article on my iPhone. Desperate to finish it on time and in the flow of a sentence, I was drafting an email with corrections as I made the three-minute walk from the station to my house.

So engrossed was I with my iPhone (as no doubt you have been before), I didn’t notice that the side street I’ve walked along hundreds of times was completely empty. So engrossed that I didn’t notice that I suddenly had a companion, on a bicycle and wielding a knife. When I did notice him, I knew instinctively what he was going to say: “Give me your iPhone!” I equally instinctively knew that I would illogically want to resist giving it to him even though it was a work iPhone with insurance for this sort of incident. I guess for a split second I thought about all of my content in the iPhone that hadn’t been backed up and all of my data that I might be handing over to him.

I glanced around in hope of spotting someone nearby who might come to my rescue but there was no one. I tried to run while shouting “Leave me alone!” but found I was pretty paralysed with fear.

After a struggle, he held the knife against my neck, saying, “Don’t be f**king stupid, do you want to be hurt? I will hurt you!” I let go, he took the phone and cycled off.

I ran the final 100m home, I’m not ashamed to admit, crying. When I got there I immediately phoned the police. The operator surprised me by asking for my Apple log-in details so the police officers could try to track my iPhone using their Find my iPhone app. She explained that detectives would then drive with me around the area where they believed the iPhone to be, based on the information that the phone should be beaming back to the Apple’s tracking system.

Like many users, I had set up Find My iPhone to track the device whenever it was switched on. Every few minutes, the phone beams back its current location to Apple’s servers and this can then be accessed when you log on to your account on another device or on the website. It also allows a user whose iPhone has gone missing to sound an alarm, pop-up an alert or if necessary remotely wipe it.

Within minutes, two wonderfully calming members from the robbery squad arrived but there was a problem: they couldn’t detect my iPhone, although it appeared to be still switched on, as it was ringing when we called it.

As we drove around the area, looking out for the guy who’d attacked me, one of the officers asked a basic question: was the phone locked? I have always used a pretty long password to unlock my iPhone, but my phone was unlocked when I was mugged as I was using it at the time. “He’s probably disabled Find My iPhone,” the officer explained, so it would be unlikely that we could track him and we returned home.

This was disappointing for the police as they had just that day successfully arrested someone having tracked them using Find My iPhone.

The problem is that, by default, once a phone is unlocked, it is very easy to disable services like Find My iPhone. A large proportion of muggings take place while someone is using the phone, as the criminal can be sure that you really are carrying around a £700 device that they can easily resell, rather than a battered old BlackBerry.

Muggers know more about your phone than you do and they know every trick in the book to make it harder for the police to track them down and in some cases extract valuable data from your phone to conduct further offences. However it is possible to make your phone more secure and make it easier for the police to apprehend criminals.

As the Find My iPhone service had been disabled on my iPhone, I wasn’t able to wipe the device remotely. The mugger, should he wish to continue to play with the phone, would have access to a lot of my personal information.

So I sat down and wrote a list of what was “automatically” logged in on my phone and worked out what passwords I’d need to change. Email is a treasure trove of personal information and would have allowed the robber effectively to gain access to my PayPal, Amazon, iTunes and other online billing accounts by resetting my passwords and requesting a new password to be sent by email. So first off, I changed the passwords for my work and personal email accounts.

Social media accounts are more complicated to secure, because by default the device doesn’t have to transmit your password every time it connects to the service. I have a large social media following and at that point I could also tweet as Channel 4 News, so I didn’t think it would be a good idea for a mugger to be able to do so too!

When it comes to the mugging itself, what did I learn? Perhaps that I shouldn’t be using my mobile phone while I’m mobile, out and exposed in a public place. That’s what the police advised, especially given the current spate of back-of-a-motorbike iPhone snatchings. What I have done is significantly reduce the time I spend on my iPhone in public: that tweet or email really can wait until I get inside.


1. Select Settings

2. Click General

3. Select Restrictions

4. Set a Restrictions passcode

5. Click Enable Restrictions

6. Look for Deleting Apps and toggle the switch from On to Off. This will mean that no one can delete an app such as Find My iPhone without your Restrictions passcode

7. Scroll down the list of options until you reach the Privacy section, here you’ll find a link to Locations Services, click it

8. Select Don’t Allow Changes. This will mean it is impossible for a robber to disable the Find My iPhone application from broadcasting your GPS. You will now need manually to approve all new apps to access your location data.

9. Go back to the main Restrictions menu and select Accounts, changing this setting to Don’t Allow Changes. This makes it impossible for a mugger to disconnect your iCloud account that connects to Find My iPhone.

10. If your iPhone is stolen, it is only going to transmit its location for as long as a SIM card is inserted and is active. You may therefore wish not to inform your mobile provider in the case of a robbery until you have met the police.

This article was orginal posted by the Evening Standard on 6th November 2012


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