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Security analyst calls for duress codes that can wipe confiscated phones

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The time has come for smartphones to come programmed with a duress code that wipes the device clean, in the event a border agent demands to search it, a veteran information security analyst has suggesed in an op-ed piece.

Bob Covello, an information security analyst with specialty insurance holding company Security Cove, contends in a Sept. 21 Tripwire "State of Security" blog post that the debate around adding a duress code for phones "has gone disturbingly silent" of late. Covello believes the issue deserves more attention, especially as reports surface of American citizens having their phones seized and searched upon re-entering the U.S.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and ACLU of Massachusetts filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for searching the laptops and smartphones of travelers at the U.S. border without a warrant, claiming such acts violate the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.

Covello said the technology would be similar to home alarm duress code, which homeowners can enter if an intruder is forcing them to disable their security, thereby alerting the monitoring agency that help is urgently needed.

For those worried that wiping a phone might result in an obstruction of justice charge, Covello suggests that owners back up their smart devices to the cloud or to a computer, thus preserving the data in case a judge later rules that they must turn over the requested data.

Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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