Friday, November 04, 2016

A USB Tripwire for your Android Phone

I was poking around Pebble apps when I came across Theft Alert. Here's what it's all about:

This app notifies your Pebble if some one tries to steal your phone.

It is highly useful when you are charging your phone in public places or anytime when you must leave your phone unattended.

The watch app is optional but makes it easier to start and stop the theft security service on the phone.

I didn't install this app, so I'm not exactly sure what it does. But the description did trigger an idea. Imagine this scenario: you're stuck in an airport and your phone's battery is down to a measly 8%. You're desperate for a charge and see a public charging station. You go ahead and plug-in, feeling relief as you see the charging symbol click on. You take a few steps away from your phone, sit down, and take a deep breath.

While you've successfully charged your phone, you've now introduced a new security threat: your phone is an easy target for someone to pick-up and walk away with.

I believe the above Pebble app tries to solve this problem. I realized that using Tasker I could trivially do the same. Here's the solution:

1. Define a new profile that's linked to: State » Power » Power » Source = Any.

2. Create a new task that will run with the above profile. I named mine Screech and put in a mix of actions, some serious, some less so. I start off by grabbing a photo from the front camera, I then makes an announcement that the phone will self destruct in 10 seconds, and then makes an annoying beep for 10 seconds. If I were using this in a 'real' capacity, I'd probably have the have the phone turn on the location announcing profile and then make an outgoing call to Shira.

3. Arrange the task so that it's an Exit Task on the profile you created. When you're done, here's how it should look:


Normally, this profile remains off. Before you plug your phone into a public spot you would turn it on. Of course, before you unplug your phone you'd want to disable the profile, otherwise you'll notify everyone in the vicinity that you're phone is about to self destruct (perhaps not the best language to use in an airport context). Of course a thief could easily disable this profile too, but I doubt they assume they are dealing with a Tasker hacker.

When this is all setup, you have a sort of USB Tripwire. I wouldn't want to depend on the above hack to provide any real security, but the concept is a fun one to experiment with, and who knows, it might be just what you need.

Incidentally, I did end up installing a related Pebble app: Connection Monitor. This little app triggers an alert on the Pebble watch when it loses its Bluetooth connection to the phone. While possibly useful in an anti-theft context, I really installed it so that I don't walk out of the house thinking I've got my phone, when really it's plugged in our bedroom.

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