23
Sep
ims

In our recent APK/website teardown, we unearthed Android's upcoming remote device lock functionality through Google Play Services, and now it has quietly gone live in the Android Device Manager. Just head to the management interface and you'll have a new Lock button. Click it, and your lost device can be secured instantly.

2013-09-23 14_39_16-Android Device Manager 2013-09-23 14_29_34-Android Device Manager

The functionality is incredibly robust. Even if you have your device locked with a pattern, PIN, or other method, the Device Manger will instantly override it. You'll be asked to choose a new password when submitting the lock request, and that's the code you'll use to unlock the device when (hopefully) you have it in hand again. This functionality will even turn off the screen if it's on to get things locked down tight. If the device is in Airplane mode, the lock request will be completed as soon as the device is reconnected.

Screenshot_2013-09-23-12-28-32

The new lock button should be in the Android device manager for everyone, and it's easy to unlock if you just want to test it out. Simply go into the security settings and revert the password to whatever lock method you want. Make sure the Android Device Manager is enabled in your Google settings app and it should be smooth sailing.

2013-09-23 14_54_37-Android Device Manager

[Android Device Manager – Thanks, Bart Tiemersma]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • German Leon Azzi

    When choosing the "locate device" option, it now also automatically activates GPS when available.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      That didn't work for me. I turned off location on the Nexus 4, and now the device manager says it can't find it. I tried refreshing the page twice. Nada. As soon as I turned location back on, the device manager found it.

      • Stacey Liu

        Did you turn off location in its entirety or just GPS?

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          Location. Which is what presumably the thief would do. Right from the settings.

          • makapav

            The fact that the ADM can't enable location back to 'on' remotely is a big fail in itself. This is a Google product, it should be able to enable and turn-on the GPS and enable all location services remotely otherwise the use cases were just shortsighted for this product.

  • radley

    This only works if the other device is on and connected. What we really need is a "check in" security setting, so when the stolen device is turned on, it checks to see if remote locked.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      There's a chance that's exactly how it works already. Let me test that.

      Edit: Yup, I set my Nexus 4 to the airplane mode, locked it using the device manager console, waited a minute, then turned on Wi-Fi, and as soon as it regained connectivity, it locked automatically exactly as you suggested.

      • hyperbolic

        What about flashing to a new ROM, will it still be locked ?

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          Of course not. Nothing survives that. Even if you were the one logging back into it, you'd still have to enable device admin for ADM first.

          • Justin W

            Do you think they will make this a default option? I think the average smartphone user won't really have any idea that this is an option available to them since it's hidden in an app that pretty much never gets used. Maybe throwing in a quick question in the tutorial?

      • Unknown182

        Yes but you still are connecting. I think he wants the phone to temporarily override airplane mode.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          So a phone goes out of airplane mode and turns on data to check if it's stolen? Yeah, no, that's never-ever going to happen.

        • omegavesko

          If it's in airplane mode, it's not capable of receiving wireless signals. Do you want Google to change the laws of physics?

          • makapav

            I think what he's saying is (and I will extrapolate it further) that once a device realizes that it's been locked through ADM, then it should disable and prevent a thief from executing certain commands until the new pin / password is entered e.g. prevent turning it off, restarting it, all background apps should be terminated (to minimize power drain and maximize recovery time), shut-down all unnecessary services, prevent airplane mode or any setting to put the phone off or disconnect from a network, maybe even switch over to EDGE/3G from HSPA/LTE network to save even more battery. All this intelligence should be built-in to maximize recovery opportunity window.

      • radley

        Did you close the web page prior to turning on the locked device? Advice from @Alex below says it only works if the web page is active.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          I did close it. It still worked.

    • radley

      We had a break-in a month ago at our studio and 6 devices were stolen (they were lab devices so no password). When we tried the current (old) find my Android service, nothing happened. It would only work if the device was on and connected, so we never recovered the devices.

      • brararsh

        It will not work if theif goes into recovery and formats the device.. Not that useful..
        But can be used for fun with friends..

      • Alex

        What I have noticed is that the location method works as long as the webpage with the location request is kept open.
        If you don't close that webpage, then as soon as the device gets an internet connection, you get the location, otherwise you have to check it only while the device is connected to the internet.

        Next vital feature would be to secure the remote device setting on the phone with a password, so that if you notice a bit late that your phone is lost or if you don't have quick access to the internet, the person who finds it can't disable things in Play Services' Device Manager.

        • radley

          Kewl - it's a wonky solution, but if it works then it's a good start at least.

    • Nav

      I just turned wifi off on my N7 and tried to lock it. It said that it successfully sent a request to lock, and when I reconnected the N7 to internet, the screen shut off and locked. I then got a message in Android Device Manager on my computer that it had been successfully locked.

      • radley

        Did you close the web page prior to turning on the locked device? Advice from @Alex below says it only works if the web page is active.

  • schmaltzy

    I tried the "lock" feature. Works great.....but....now how do I make the lock go away? I unlocked the device with the test password but now it asks me for that everytime I wake up my device! Suggestions?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Go back to the Settings -> Security, and set the preferred method again.

      • schmaltzy

        Got it! Thanks!

  • Kellic

    I wish we had the ability to delegate this feature to other G-mail users. If my phone is stolen it could be an hour or more before I get home to a computer to do this. But borrowing someone's phone calling up a friend and say KILL THE GIBSON could be done in 5 minutes.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      If it's a good enough friend, give them the password and change it later. Otherwise, I don't know how I'd feel about having friends with direct access to locking, wiping, and sounding alarms.

      • Kellic

        2 factor authentication is the problem.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          Yeah, that's true. I suppose, never leave the house without a second connectable device :-]

          • Kellic

            I may stash my old phone in my car....just in case. Maybe just make sure My Chrome account is linked to my Google Account so I can do this and just encrypt the phone. Not sure. Then again I may be over thinking this. =D

    • Fiorta

      Avast has this feature. It's much better.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        Indeed, you can set I think 2 friends' phone numbers to be whitelisted for SMS commands. Or you can give them the password to the Avast portal, which doesn't support 2-factor auth anyway.

    • Alex Fischer

      Or still better send a kill phrase text (SMS) to your phone from any phone you can get your hands on, data wiped, device locked and tracked, with the mug shot of the thief.

      • TonyJM

        Have a look at Cerberus App... it lets you turn wifi/3g on by text also lock down or wipe by text... I use it and love it ;)

        • Alex Fischer

          I know about Cerberus, pretty powerful app it is :)

          • Jrs418

            Google should buy it and give it more power and secure the recovery too

    • Giacu

      Uh? if you can borrow someone's phone, just log in to Google with your credentials and do it from there no?

  • matt

    It cannot find my device that has already been stolen :-( . But I hit the ring button everyday :-).

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Yeah, it's way too easy to disable it if you know what you're doing, or just reset it altogether. There's no root protection, so a reflash isn't even needed. I'm still going to continue using Avast's Anti-Theft.

      • h4rr4r

        If you have root, that is game over. No need to reflash, root can even remove the APK this uses.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          If you have root and, say, Avast Anti-Theft, the thief would have to look pretty closely to spot the hidden installation in the system partition, especially if you uninstall the main Avast UI and only leave the Anti-Theft one on.

          • h4rr4r

            Or he just needs to restore /system to a version he finds on line. Either way most thieves are going to sell it to someone who will factory reset or flash back to factory. Thieves are simply not that technically inclined, if they were they could find better ways to make money.

  • Dominic Powell

    Artem, One quick question. Is this exactly how the new IOS 7 remote security feature works? If so this is a boon for Google Play Services big time to introduce a feature like this without the need for a significant OS update all done behind the scenes.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      I have no idea how iOS features work, I don't have a single iOS device. But my guess is it's similar.

      • Dominic Powell

        Bah, Neither do I, thought you might have some insight into the situation though as it was a touted feature in iOS 7 and another of those things listed in the dumb "fragmentation" argument. Google Play Services cures 90% of Android's fragmentation woes from a "services" perspective.

    • Kellic

      Technically Google has had this ability for....er...I think a year? It was available in the corp admin tools for Android. I think Google simply turned on a switch which did also include a Services update.

  • Shane

    Silly question, but what do we use to remotely lock/wipe our phone? Is there a download for our pc or what app is used on another smartphone?

  • Peter

    anyone got this working who used a free Google apps for domains account?

    • Bojan Bunić

      Yeah, works for me.

      • Peter

        how did you activate it? i just get an error saying its for business and education customers only.

        • Bojan Bunić

          Actually, didn't do anything specific, it just worked for me from the get-go.
          Are you sure, you're looking at the right thing? Not the Google Apps Device Policy from the play store, but Android Device Manager.

          • Peter

            i go here: https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager

            but get redirected to here: https://www.google.com/apps/mydevices/b/0

            and it just says i need a business or education account. i dont have any option to enable within the admin console pages either.

          • Peter

            Upgrading to Google Apps for Business (free 30 day trial) seems to fix it.

            Not sure what will happen when I downgrade though...hopefully it will stay working!

  • Maison Pulaski

    How do you remove a device from the Device Manager list? I have 2 old devices on there that I would like to remove but do not see an option for that.

    Which leads me to another question... If I bought a phone of off swappa (or anywhere) would the old owner be able to remote wipe my phone down the road?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      No, it's tied to your Google account.

  • Spasillium

    I'll admit, what Apple did with iOS 7's security is pretty sweet. If a thief completely wipes the phone or tablet on the device that has iOS 7 installed, he/she can't get past the setup screen nor activate the device on a carrier unless they have the original owner's Apple ID and password.

    I'm hoping Google can come up with a similar feature since one with knowing how to get into recovery mode, or knows what to search, can easily remove the Lockdown with a factory restore.

    • Gustavo Parrado

      my thoughts exactly, seems like a little tweak with no much work on google's part, I would feel much safer if that was the way it worked.

    • Imparus

      so what do you do if you want to sell and old iPhone with iOS7?

      • Spasillium

        All you have to do is deactivate the iCloud service, which also deactivates Find My iPhone, and then do either a factory reset or a wipe with iTunes before selling it.

    • Unknown182

      This.

    • Kellic

      OK while I care about getting my hardware back. Its the data on it I give the biggest crap about. If all Google does is assure that everything on the device is wiped clean and I can get one last fix on the phone....everything else is icing on the cake.

    • train234

      even thought its secure I considered it a walled garden feature.

      • Joshua

        But there's nothing about that feature that inherently prevents it from having an open-source Android equivalent for those who want it.

        • makapav

          There will need to be a portion of firmware that cannot be 'affected by flashing stock ROMs'. Right now, almost every part of the firmware is flashable by the end user. I wonder where in the storage section, would this bit of locked-down code reside and how would they technically implement it.

          • Labrat

            That feature could, potentially be implemented in the cloud.

            As soon as Google see the IMEI (or other unique ID that survive flashing) it locks the device, or blocks it from Google Services or something similar that render the device much less usefull.

            A Google Account is linked to this ID and you can manage your device before trading and whatnot.

    • Matthew Fry

      I'm interested to know how this will work with carriers. Do a phone trade in and the refurb buyer can't use it. There will be no end to the confusion of those hapless carrier reps.

      • Phillip U.

        For Android, just wipe it and it's reusable. There will be growing pains with Apple's new iOS 7 Activation Lock since their lockdown survives a device wiping. So you're going to start seeing places reject trade-ins because they couldn't unlock the phone. Not unlike trading in a PC locked with a BIOS password. They'll probably warn you upfront that they'll reject your device and charge you for return shipping for wasting their time.

        • Ku

          You can remove the battery to get rid of BIOS passwords, I think. Has that changed?

          • GlennStile

            Nope, you also (usually) have the option to short the "reset bios" header

    • dilharo

      Also what is the problem with thieves if they can access recovery mode by pressing
      vol.up+vol.down+powerbutton..then format and use it or flash new rom

      • Mie Mohd

        this is where recovery mode 'has role' for thief, no offence,
        I think Google itself must connected with new 'secure recovery' by carrying permanent user data in stealth or secure mode

    • Lakh Jhajj

      All Google has to do is copy Apple in that part too!

    • GlennStile

      I've often wondered why the US doesn't get its act together and use an IMEI block like UK, Europe and Australia ??.. It makes stealing phones pretty much a waste of time, unless you're after the parts.

      (I know you can spoof IMEI's on some phones but its not easy or cheap)

  • http://samsung-updates.com/ Krzysztof Bryk

    and i cant activate it for i9000 ;]

  • RashaYad

    Nice to see an Android Police writer in the 651. Seeing "Como, St. Paul" was kind of a shock.

  • Mastermind26

    How does this work if your phone has been encrypted for enterprise purposes?

  • csharpner

    FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFfuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge!

    The LAST thing I want is for law enforcement to have the ability to force Google to unlock my phone (by changing the pw).

    Thanks for the heads up. I've now disabled this feature. It's a shame though. I'd love to have everything BUT the remote unlock.

    • mlj11

      Hmm.

      1) Why would law enforcement want to do that to you?

      2) Do you really think Google couldn't have done that anyway before rolling out this feature?

      3) I have some tin foil hats for sale; would you like one?

      • Kostas

        Loled hard on 3

    • Sam Hollis

      Paranoid much?

      Besides, even with your device locked, the police have other ways to get around it. Once they have the hardware, all bets on security are off.

      There's nothing on your phone that they can't get elsewhere, anyway. They can grab texts, calls, and internet usage from your carrier(or from your ISP for when you're on WiFi). E-mails and such can be retrieved from Google et al.

      But believe it or not, you are not a special snowflake. You are not James Bond in a movie. The cops are not coming after you unless you do something illegal.

    • dnr

      You really think that disabling the feature makes it impossible for Google or Law enforcement to do this? get real!

  • The Hypnotist

    Whats the chance the app could get hacked and your phone gets shut down and possibly wiped? The Hypnotist

  • http://jamieellis.co.cc/ Jamie Ellis

    "lock" - A welcome feature for ADM 1.1!

    Still got work to go:
    1. iOS7 like "persistence"
    2. Custom Message for lost/stolen device: e.g. "My device is lost/stolen please contact "number" for a reward"
    3. Remote access to camera (say cheese)!
    4. Track silently (for a given time say 4 hours) that if active is logged
    5. Detect Sim changes

  • Guest

    It doesn't seem to work for me... It says that the locking was successful but it does nothing to my phone.

  • disqus_em8yVTEKN3

    why doesn't google use IMEI number to lock the device down... IMEI is not as easy to change... this will atleast guarantee that even if sim is removed and a factory reset is done... You can mark the phone as stolen and as soon as the phone connects to the internet it will get locked just by checking IMEI number...

    • disqus_em8yVTEKN3

      plus the phones with non-removable batteries need the option to turn off the "turn off menu", while the phone is on the lockscreen with password/pin/pattern-lock protection... this will prevent the device from shutting down giving you time to access a computer... and a fail safe to lock the device in case if the sim card is removed/changed when the device is on the lockscreen... Further making it difficult

      • nmt1900

        Will not help, if battery dies.

        • disqus_em8yVTEKN3

          yes... but it gives you those few hours to get its location.... can possibly also give you an access to the front facing camera to get some pics... a few hours is better than someone just removing the battery and wiping it...

  • Wild Ta

    Cool. It would be great if they allowed you to lock the device indefinitely unless it gets returned to you or cell provider. It would also be nice if they allowed you to put a message "if found please contact..." on the pin lock screen.

    • Wild Ta

      By indefinite, I basically mean the phone is bricked unless you enter the right PIN, return to the cell provider or owner.

  • Rolf

    It says "Location not available" for my N4, even though ADM is activated. It has worked before, doesn't now.

  • http://www.hacktabs.com/ Anoop Sudhakaran

    You can re-create this service with advanced settings if you are a Tasker user.

    Eg: Send SMS to lock the phone, turn on GPS, reply with location and more.

  • Dee Norbert

    Its bullshit.We need text support.If data plan/Wi-Fi is turned off you can reflash ROM,kernel and you have the phone.

  • DanSan

    so has anyone been brave enough to try the wipe feature on a phone with custom recovery?

    i never used Avast's Anti-Theft so no idea if that works with custom recovery either.

  • didibus

    So, where is the Android Device manager?

  • didibus

    It can't locate my phone if it's locked with the screen off... What a great piece of software.

  • http://www.sohrob.com Sohrob Tahmasebi

    I'm going to emulate the spirit of an Apple-bashing Android enthusiast trolling any and all Apple-related stories on the tech blogs for a second here: "Oh that's a feature Apple's had for at least two generations now. You people are sheep. You don't understand how behind your feature-set is and how inferior to iOS your platform is. Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah". I'm sorry but some of you Fandroid kids are absolutely ridiculous with your tech-fascism.

  • eli

    Haven't figured out how to set this up. A point by point instruction might help. Unfortunately I'm not as computer/phone literate as many of the people commrenting.

  • Arcest

    The remote lock feature is not enough. If the stolen phone is connected to a computer in either Download Mode or Recovery Mode the thief can root it and extract all data. It's not as safe as iOS.

    • HaroldCallahan

      You don't have any idea what you're talking about. Rooting an unrooted phone requires unlocking the bootloader. The act of unlocking the bootloader erases all data on the phone.

  • Jason Smith

    I lost my Nexus 7 and have been checking ADM everyday to see if I can locate it. The Nexus 7 has not been located so far. Today when I went to check it, the Nexus 7 is not even listed as an option anymore. I checked Google Play and it is still listed as a device on my account.

  • Renju John

    Dear Sir,

    I lost my samsung galaxy s4, it is already registered in the android device manager, I dont know anything apart from this. when I try to locate, is is showing location unavailable, but there is a change in the last used date.

    Is there any chance to locate it. please help.

  • Arthur W Lichtenberger

    How about being able to turn the location services on remotely... so that I can then use other services to find the phone?

  • Benruhu

    I've been chasing a stolen phone around my area since Saturday - desparate to get my unbacked-up photos back. What I need to do is lock my phone when they turn it on again but also activate 3g and gps which they seem to have turned off. - Any ideas anyone?

  • mada

    i have used this successfully to a point. i lost my nexus and used the device manager to lock it. My device was returned to me a while later and i cannot remember the password after choosing a suitably obscure one to stop anyone getting in to it.
    What i cant understand is why it will not let me unlock the device through the device manager, or change the password to a new one and therefore allow me access to my device. any thoughts would be great.

  • Joe foshizzle

    I lost my Android phone while at the grocery store. I did get a general location and was able to ring the phone once. Unfortunately the phone turned off after I sent a ring command.

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