“Kill switch” software to tackle smartphone theft as Boris Johnson calls for action

New security measures needed as part of “corporate responsibility, Mayor tells companies

Boris Johnson has told mobile phone companies that they must do more to prove that they are not deliberately and directly benefiting from handset thefts, as security experts in the US tested new “kill switch” software being introduced by Apple and Samsung.

The number of incidents of smartphone mugging has soared, even as overall crime rates reached their lowest level for almost two decades. Metropolitan police figures show 10,000 handsets are stolen every month in London alone.

The capital’s mayor wrote a letter to the British heads of eight major manufacturers, including Blackberry, Microsoft and HTC, calling on them to be “serious about your corporate responsibility” and “help solve this problem”.

Apple and other retail stores have been criticised for letting criminals swap stolen phones, claimed to be “broken”, for new handsets, and for making money from uninsured victims who then have to splash out on expensive replacement handsets.

Mr Johnson’s letter went on: “Customers and shareholders surely deserve to know that business cannot and must not benefit directly from smartphone theft through sales of replacement devices.”

The mayor’s officials met with counterparts in New York this week, in a bid to broker a deal on transatlantic collaboration to tackle the growing problem.

The new “kill switch” measures from Apple and Samsung, which would render a stolen handset useless and could only be undone with an original set of login details, aims to offer a stronger defence than current software like the Find My iPhone application, which can easily be switched off by thieves who know where to look.

US security experts tested the new software this week, demonstrating their effectiveness as part of a New York and San Francisco-led campaign called “Secure Our Smartphones”.

And in a statement to the Financial Times, Apple said it was proud to have “led the industry in helping customers protect their lost or stolen devices”.