iPad Heist At JFK Highlights Mobile Tech Risks

Two thieves made off with 3,600 iPad Minis in a brazen robbery at New York's JFK Airport, demonstrating that crooks can strike in unexpected ways. Here are tips to protect your smartphones and tablets.
Thieves at JFK Airport Monday night netted $1.5 million in stolen iPad Minis. The heist, which the New York Post likens to the famed 1978 Lufthansa robbery depicted in the movie "Goodfellas," involved a forklift, a tractor trailer, and some lax security.

According to the Post, it was probably an inside job. Law enforcement sources say someone let the two thieves and their truck into the airport. The crooks used a forklift owned by the airport to load a pallet of iPad Minis onto their truck. They would have loaded two more pallets onto the truck had they not been confronted by an airport worker. The iPads had just been delivered for distribution to various points around the U.S.

The robbers are still at large, but law enforcement is questioning airport security personnel. The stolen iPad Minis have not yet turned up.

[ A NASA laptop containing sensitive data was stolen from an employee's locked car. Read more: Stolen NASA Laptop Had Unencrypted Employee Data. ]

This isn't the first time ne'er-do-wells have lifted Apple gear in bulk. Hundreds of iPhones were stolen from a Brooklyn warehouse several years ago. Apple retail stores have been targeted by smash-and-grab crooks. iPods and iPhones have long been a favorite of street hoods.

Mobile tech is a hot item when it comes to robberies these days. In fact, the NYPD has placards scattered throughout the NYC subway system that warn passengers about the potential for smartphone thefts.

The JFK iPad Mini caper is a good reminder that mobile professionals need to take care with their mobile gear, lest it be lifted, too. Here are some tips:

1. Don't leave phones, tablets, or laptops unattended in public spaces. Just don't do it. An unattended smartphone or tablet is an easy mark for opportunists. It doesn't matter how comfortable you are with the employees of the coffee shop or restaurant, or how few people might be present. Anything can (and will!) happen when your back is turned.

2. Use 'Find My Phone' features. Most smartphones have a GPS-activated tracking service that is free. Take five minutes to turn it on and use it. This way, if your device is stolen, you have a better chance of getting it back -- and quickly. Better yet, make sure your device is set to activate an alarm once you locate it.

3. Use password locks. If your employer doesn't mandate passwords on mobile devices, shame on them. They are simple to set up, take only a few seconds to punch in, and you're in. Passwords pretty much negate the usefulness of a stolen device because the thief can't access it and steal your information.

4. Be aware of where you use mobile devices. You might think it's safe to walk down the street and scan your inbox on your smartphone, but it isn't. I know people who've had smartphones literally snatched out of their hands by crooks in broad daylight. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

5. Report stolen gear. If your smartphone or tablet is stolen, be sure to report it to the police and to your wireless network operator. The four largest network operators (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless) have set up databases for stolen phones. Once a stolen device's IMEI number is entered into the database, the device can't access any of the networks, making it useless to thieves. (The goal of this program is to dry up the demand for stolen phones).

As for the lifted iPads, it's possible that Apple can render them useless in a similar fashion. If the iPad Minis stolen were LTE-equipped models, they'll have an IMEI number just as cell phones do, and they can be prevented from accessing wireless networks. Apple can also refuse to activate the serial numbers of the stolen devices.

Time to patch your security policy to address people bringing their own mobile devices to work. Also in the new Holes In BYOD issue of Dark Reading: Metasploit creator HD Moore has five practical security tips for business travelers. (Free registration required.)