New software could help keep sensitive information safe, by preventing certain data to be accessed outside a particular room.
It gives phones permission to access the data while in a particular room - but when the devices leave the room, the data's wiped completely.
The Virginia Tech team says it could help labs doing sensitive research, keepers of medical records and even parents who want to prevent their kids from sexting.
"There are commercial products that do limited versions of these things, but nothing that allows for automating wiping and complete control of settings and apps on smart phones and tablets," says Jules White, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
"This system provides something that has never been available before. It puts physical boundaries around information in cyberspace."
A general, White suggests, could access secret intelligence while visiting a secure government facility without fear that his or her smart phone or tablet computer might later be lost or stolen.
Doctors or nurses could review patient information during a doctor visit, but – safeguarding patient privacy – couldn’t walk out of the examination room with the patient’s records.
The software also enables central control of phone features such as the camera or email.
"For instance, you could keep certain apps from working in the operating room so surgeons wouldn’t get distracted, or you could prevent nurses from taking patient photos and putting them on the internet," says White.
"In that same way, parents could restrict when and where children could send text messages to prevent distraction at school. Parents could also limit to whom messages with images could be sent in order to prevent sexting."