The theft of cellular telephones and smartphones is becoming so widespread that the U.S. government is actively searching for ways to help people make their devices – and the data stored on them – more secure.

According to a story from Mashable, the Federal Communication Commission is working with device manufacturers and cellular carriers to create new ways of helping to prevent phone theft and to allow users to remotely disable or wipe phones should they be stolen. According to the government, phone theft is a pretty ubiquitous and potentially serious problem: in major cities such as Washington D.C. and New York, Mashable reports that 40 percent of all robberies involve cell phones. The number is even higher, 57 percent, in the capital region.

That’s a problem because it’s tough losing an expensive electronic device that many people use to help them keep in touch with others and to literally navigate the world around them. But there’s also the further complication of users having their data, and potentially their identities, stolen when a cell phone is lost or stolen. Smartphones in particular store a huge amount of information, from passwords to addresses and even bank PINs. In the wrong hands, a smartphone can be a gold mine of ill-gotten info.

The FCC has a plan, though. In fact, its PROJECTS initiative to fight cell phone theft is a three-part plan, the first portion of which would be to create a huge database basically filled with information on every mobile device in the country. This would allow carriers to remotely disable any device reported stolen, thereby protecting user data and eliminating a potential reason to sell the device in the first place, since there would be no resale or reuse value.

The second part of the plan is to encourage carriers and phone makers to add prompts to their devices and software recommending that users create passwords for them. That could go a long way to making users more security conscious, the FCC says, and make it at least a little harder to pull data from stolen smartphones.

And finally, the FCC wants to work to educate smartphone owners more about mobile apps and other software that can help secure their smartphones. That will also help to make users more aware of security concerns, as well as to give them the tools to lock and wipe their phones remotely or find missing phones using GPS capabilities.

Several carriers and device makers are on-board with the plan, including Android device makers such as Motorola and HTC, plus Microsoft, Apple, Nokia and others. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and Nex-Tech Wireless have also signed up for the program.

Mashable says the FCC hopes the steps will reduce thefts and other issues that arise from misplaced cell phones, and is going to be checking in with the police chiefs of cities across the country to see if the program has an effect. In the meantime, users can protect themselves by adding a password lock to their phones and mobile devices, at the very least.

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