Google Announces An AI-Powered Theft Detection System For Android, And More

Android anti theft

People can store pretty much all of their lives on their phones.

From photos and videos they take, which can include intimate ones, contact list, which literally shows everyone they know, to messages and chat history, email messages, apps they downloaded and installed, banking apps, and lots more. Not to mention that phones can also store location data.

What this means, phones hold a trove of sensitive, and valuable data.

In the modern-days of internet and mobile, the data contained within smartphones are much more expensive than even the most expensive of phones.

Google, the tech giant behind Android, is announcing an array of new security features.

And during its 2024 Google I/O conference, and as it releases its second Android 15 beta, the company introduced a feature that can detect the moment a phone is stolen.

'Theft Detection Lock' works by recognizing the unusual motions that would indicate someone has yanked a phone out of the owners' hands or from a table in front of them.

The system uses AI to quickly detect when a phone is parted from its owner, quickly lock the phone, and prevent unwanted access.

It AI utilizes the smartphones sensors, such as the accelerometer and gyroscope, to detect the sudden changes in the phones' positioning and the motions.

If if detects that a phone might be snatched, the algorithm will automatically lock the device.

This way, the thief will not be able to extract any information from the stolen phone.

To train the algorithm, Google's team studied how phones are commonly stolen, and re-created snatching events against each other to collect data about what a simulated theft looks like.

The system looks for other signals that indicate foul play, too.

For example, it can also lock the screen for protection if it detects that someone is trying to take it off the internet network. This way, the system can effectively prevent remote access.

On top of that, Google is also introducing a new way to lock an Android phone screen remotely if it ends up in the wrong hands.

By visiting android.com/lock, owners of Android phones can simply enter their phone number, and respond to a security challenge to lock their device.

Around the world, phone thefts are a huge problem.

Thieves can easily snatch phones out of their owners' hands. Unlike phones that are stolen, phones that are snatched may be in use during the time they're stolen, meaning that the phones could be unlocked.

Stolen phones can be resold if they are unlocked

"The thieves profit from the physical device themselves, but they also increasingly are trying to get into the content of the device, where the most valuable data is stored," Jianing Sandra Guo, an Android security and privacy product manager at Google, said.

Theft Detection Lock is designed to add a protection system, which can proactively detect the moment a phone is snatched.

"There’s a grabbing of the phone, changing hands, and then an attacker running, biking, or even driving away with a device," Guo said.

To increase protections before a phone is stolen, Google in a blog post, said that the company is adding even more data protection system to help keep information locked down.

For example, the system can prevent a stolen phone from being set up after a factory reset, unless the person knows the login details.

Then, there is a feature called 'private spaces' where users can store sensitive apps, like banking apps, that require a second PIN or biometrics, to access.

After that, there are also extra authentication controls being put in place, which can detect if a thief tries to disable Google's Find My Device location-tracking service. When it detects this situation, it will require a PIN, a password, or biometric information to unlock it.

And even if the thief knows the PIN, the system can also require two-factor authentication using biometric to make changes to Google account and device settings, such as a PIN change or turning off anti-theft settings.

Then, there is a way for owners to lock their device quickly after their phone is stolen.

"Find My Device already lets you remotely lock or wipe a lost or stolen phone and you can now mark it as lost for easier tracking. But many users are shocked and stressed after a phone goes missing and can’t recall their Google account password to access Find My Device."

The Remote Lock feature allows owners to mark their phone as lost.

The extra authentication features are similar to those introduced by Apple in its Stolen Device Protection system that debuted in iOS 17.3. Google however, goes a lot further than this with AI.

Aside from the anti-phone-theft tools, Android 15 is coming with other security and privacy updates.

Google’s app safety system, Google Play Protect, scans billions of apps every day to detect malware, but this time, Google has expanded it to be able to do live scanning on people’s phones to better detect suspicious behavior.

Play Protect also gets an update designed to protect users from bad actors, in which it can look at how apps use sensitive permissions on the phone to keep an eye out for signs of phishing and fraud. Any malicious apps are sent to Google for further review.

“With live threat detection, Google Play Protect’s on-device AI will analyze additional behavioral signals related to the use of sensitive permissions and interactions with other apps and services,” Dave Kleidermacher, a Google vice president, writes in a blog post.

Published: 
16/05/2024