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Using Wireless Technologies to Fight Camera Theft

If every digital camera contained a SIM or RFID module, it could log into its manufacturer's product-authentication database when switched on and, if stolen, report its whereabouts and disable itself until returned to its rightful owner.
By Dieter Uckelmann, with contributions from Mark Harrison
All of these requirements could be implemented as follows:

The hardware. The device (a camera, for example) would contain an embedded SIM module with mobile reception, which would check its status with the manufacturer's product identifier authentication database every time it was switched on. It would start up immediately, but if it received a response indicating it had been reported as stolen, the device would then switch to a disabled state and display a message advising that it be taken to the nearest police station. The messages for performing the check about whether the item was stolen, and for reporting it as such, could probably be formatted as regular SMS text messages, within 160 characters. If the device was equipped with GPS functionality (some current digital cameras already offer this capability), the stolen equipment's location could be transmitted as well. The IDs of attached accessories (lenses, for example) would be transmitted through the main device, which could deactivate them. As an alternative to connecting through the main device's embedded SIM module, a connection to the Internet could be established through a wired USB connection to a PC.

The registration authorities. The device's legitimate original owner would register that item's unique ID number with a standardized service hosted at the manufacturer, or with a service such as Immobilise, and would receive a key code enabling the reversible remote deactivation of the device. The different manufacturers and third-party services would be interlinked through standardized interfaces and discovery services. Any legitimate purchasers of second-hand devices would receive the key code from the previous owner, which they could then use, together with the equipment's unique ID, to register the item as their property. This would generate a new locking key for that device (which would be provided to the new owner) and would permanently deactivate the locking key held by the previous owner, so that the prior user would not be able to remotely lock that device transferring ownership. The locking key for each object owned could be securely stored within a service such as Immobilise, together with a description and IDs or serial numbers, as well as photographs, scanned receipts (as proof of purchase) and so forth.

The event. In the event of a theft, the legitimate owner could potentially use Immobilise or a similar service to remotely lock the stolen devices for which they were the legitimate owner. The service would then update its own product identifier authentication service, and/or that operated by the relevant manufacturer, so that the next time the device called home upon startup to check if it had been stolen, it would know that it should disable itself and display the message advising the bearer to deliver it to the nearest police station.


Antione Borg 2011-05-29 01:22:55 AM
Great Idea but what if .... I like the idea of having a device turn itself off but the problem there is that it needs a good connection to 'home' before it can tell if it needs to deactivate itself. If I steal your equipment and then connect it to a closed network which is fully under my control, your device will never call home. Of course, devices that can't call home can choose to deactivate themselves as a precaution - but what if the Internet is unavailable (as happens regularly in the developing world and on islands which are dependent on a single Internet connection at times)? Would you really want to use a mechanism that renders your device useless even when it should be fine? Another alternative would be precise positioning. Have you heard of the EU funded TIGER project (http://gsa.europa.eu/index.cfm?objectid=A30D434B-0DF6-460F-CDBB523C6E79CB5E) From what I can tell, these guys are building the necessary hw/sw to allow a mobile device to work provided it is within a pre-established geographical area - and this is all obtained by a satellite feed. It strikes me that combining this GNSS-based approach and your idea would allow for a superior solution.

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