Offenders are using software to remotely wipe tablets and smartphones confiscated by the police so they cannot be used as evidence in criminal cases.
Police forces in Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Durham all admitted to the BBC that seized devices have been remotely “wiped” of all data to prevent it being used as evidence in court.
Dorset has been the worst affected with six occurrences in one year and the police in the county were at pains to point out that they don’t have the foggiest how users are doing so.
"There were six incidents, but we don't know how people wiped them,” the Dorset police spokesperson told the BBC. "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.”
Derbyshire police also confirmed that a device has been wiped remotely whilst in police custody in relation to a romance fraud case, however, this didn’t impact the investigation and a conviction was secured.
Cleveland police, on the other hand, was another left befuddled by a device and it admitted it was unclear “whether it was wiped prior to coming into police hands”. It’s also not apparent if it affected the investigation because the force doesn’t know what was on the phone.
Forces in Cambridgeshire, Durham and Nottingham have also all seen one case each and it’s thought that offenders are able to wipe devices remotely if the police force in question leaves the power on due to the fact it still has a signal.
"If a device has a signal, in theory it is possible to wipe it remotely," Ken Munro, a digital forensics expert with Pen Test Partners told the BBC.
Munro analyses scores of devices for corporate clients and advises anyone seizing a device to put it inside a radio-frequency shielded bag to prevent the signal getting through and if that isn’t available then a microwave oven provides a shield.
Apple iOS and Google Android devices can be easily wiped remotely by using the Find My Device or WheresMyDroid services just so long as there is an Internet connection and the device has battery power, thus showing how easy it is for offenders to destroy evidence.