Smartphones and tablets seized as evidence by police are being wiped remotely, removing data that could serve as vital evidence, an investigation has found.
It is believed that six devices were wiped while they were being kept in police custody within the space of a year, Dorset police said. Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Durham police also confirmed similar incidents.
The technology being used was originally designed to allow device owners to remove sensitive data from phones or tablets if they are lost or stolen.
"We have cases where phones get seized, and they are not necessarily taken from an arrested person, but we don't know the details of these cases as there is not a reason to keep records of this," a spokeswoman for Dorset police told the BBC.
A spokeswoman for Derbyshire police also confirmed one incident of a device being remotely wiped while in police custody.
"We can't share many details about it, but the case concerned romance fraud, and a phone involved with the investigation was remotely wiped," she said. "It did not impact upon the investigation, and we went on to secure a conviction."
Software that enables this remote wiping has been available from a variety of security firms for some time.
For example, BitDefender announced a product in June intended to track the whereabouts of lost or stolen Android devices. Not only did it allow users to connect remotely and 'wipe' data from a web profile via the internet, but to activate commands with text messages.
Pen Test Partners' digital forensics expert, Ken Munro, said it is common practice to immediately put devices that are seized as evidence into a radio-frequency shielded bag to prevent any signals getting through and stop remote wipes.
"If we can't get to the scene within an hour, we tell the client to pop it in a microwave oven, he said. "The microwave is reasonably effective as a shield against mobile or tablet signals - just don't turn it on."
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