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Samsung May Be Adding Kill Switch for Stolen Smartphones

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June 24, 2013 10:21:26 AM

get your tin hats, boys.
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June 24, 2013 10:33:55 AM

"This device will self-destruct in 5 seconds" pfffffftttttttttt... (smoke coming out)
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June 24, 2013 11:09:24 AM

Doesn't blackberry protect allow you to wipe and lock your device remotely
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June 24, 2013 11:25:43 AM

The phones can still be sold as spare parts.
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June 24, 2013 11:28:15 AM

Nice pic of the Samsung user, Tom's.
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June 24, 2013 11:47:39 AM

better to sell them as parts then since no one will know.
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June 24, 2013 11:49:20 AM

Cool, I can't wait to report my friends new phone stolen, what an awesome prank! Too bad I will have to wait till July.
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June 24, 2013 11:53:25 AM

Since iOS is adding one, Samsung has to play the "me too" game.
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June 24, 2013 12:02:28 PM

Really bad road to go down.

Want to cut off service for a 'stolen' phone sure no problem. But giving them a way to brick a device, makes it way too easy to screw people. From hackers to government, to fake theft reports etc. Its just a bad bad road to go down.
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June 24, 2013 12:25:51 PM

Wouldn't all the current stolen phones end up as being sold for parts anyway? I can't imagine a Verizon store is going to activate a Verizon phone when it shows up in the DB as stolen. Or do they electronically change the IEMI?
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June 24, 2013 12:38:18 PM

Manufacturer: is time to make more cash (press the button)
End user: my phone is dead, got to buy a new one......

Government: this fellow are spreading comments against the government, kill him! (press the button)
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June 24, 2013 12:50:05 PM

this is stupid. if a killswitch solution was feasible it was already implemented in notebooks many years ago. all the previous attempts failed. If you invent a killswitch method it is certain that hackers will find a workaround.
also there's already a killswitch method used by carriers. it blocks the imei and it can't be used on nationwide networks. but even this method can be worthless if someone changes (illegally) but easily the smarthpone imei.
also even if it was technologically possible (it isn't) the thefts would still continue because parts can be used. only the soc would be unusable. but all the modules would work flawless like, screen, digitalizer, case, battery, shell, camera, antennas, memory card etc.
so good luck with that but it won't work.
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June 24, 2013 12:54:26 PM

Because of course it's fair to hold phone companies responsible for other people's illegal actions with the threat of legal action if they don't do as they're told and put in a brick-me-now button on the mobile devices on which everyone relies. Tinfoil hat or not, it's awfully convenient. After all of the proof that nobody can be trusted to abstain from using illegal access to vital technology, how can people not recognize the danger here? In a state where you can be termed a terrorist for anything at all and promptly lose every right you have as a citizen, how can this kind of power be acceptable in the hands of ANY company or government?

Edit: If I were a hacker or other peddler of malicious code, I would be jumping for joy at this news. You can't get much better an opportunity than remote-bricking masses of phones with the click of a button, so to speak. Talk about creating vulnerability by over-centralization...
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June 24, 2013 1:34:57 PM

Should make it expode or turn into a WP7 device... either way, a useless device.
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June 24, 2013 1:43:03 PM

I would think a more 'un-hackable' approach to ruining a smartphone would be to remotely trigger the soft/firmware to overheat the phone without any safeguards and with all physical buttons turned off. Just click and know that your phone is melting the Soc into nothingness while the thief is running his hand under cold water.
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June 24, 2013 1:50:12 PM

If you report it stolen the gps should then act like a lojack and be able to lead you to the phone.
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June 24, 2013 2:13:04 PM

It is easy to accidentally brick your device when flashing a new bootloader, all Samsung has to do is have a second rom chip that loads a faulty bootloader/rom. Instant paperweight. And useless for most thieves, It takes skill and ability to recover a bricked device (if even possible), something most thieves dont have, they just want quick $$$
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June 24, 2013 2:14:02 PM

The last thing I want is the government having a killswitch for my phone.

And I'm not saying "Big government is out to get me!", I don't care who has it, I don't want anyone to have a killswitch for my phone. People need to take care of their phones. I take excellent care of my phone, but I'm also running an anti-theft/lost phone app that can do almost everything on the phone remotely. Just don't leave your phone lying around. Treat that phone like it's a stack of cash worth it's value. I shouldn't have to pay for irresponsible people's behaviors.
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June 24, 2013 2:20:17 PM

Anyone reminded of Inspector Gadget?
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June 24, 2013 3:27:14 PM

This is a terrible idea... What if someone loses the phone, but the person who finds it tries to return it?

I don't have a good feeling about it, and something tells me this won't solve anything
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June 24, 2013 3:58:54 PM

I can read the headlines now...
"MILLIONS OF BOMBS GO OFF AROUND THE WORLD!"
"Cyber terrorists hack samsung servers, activating the self destruct features on all samsung smart phones. A DOD spokesperson said earlier they are preparing to invade South Korea for harboring terrorists."
:D 
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June 24, 2013 4:26:38 PM

bnot said:
better to sell them as parts then since no one will know.

Since nearly every major component/assembly has a microcontroller on-board, every assembly and subsystem could have its own set of kill-switches with attached behavior.

You could even have a setup where all microcontrollers authenticate each-other at boot time to verify that all components are factory-authorized to work together so repair shops cannot use stolen parts. This makes most of the separable components worthless even as spare parts.
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June 24, 2013 6:34:22 PM

the thing is not New and copyrighted by nokia

When stolen, the Carrier is going to upload symbian to the Phone.
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June 24, 2013 11:01:33 PM

Ok, Samsung news, but not a word written about the huge array of products released at E3 like the W8/Android tablet Q, is it because Tom's hates Microsoft? So far off the pace this site is a joke
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June 25, 2013 1:46:30 AM

yay, controversial opinion here.
unless you are mugged, or the phone is literally ripped out of your hand, you deserve to have it stolen.
seriously, if you are that irresponsible with a 5-900$ device, you shouldn't have one in the first place.
i hate that they are effectively killing the used market for these too, but making you be forced to go through someone who will play you maybe 50$ and sell it for upwards 400$ just because you cant be sure if you are getting a stolen phone.
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June 25, 2013 5:12:04 AM

what's up with the pic?
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June 25, 2013 6:32:22 AM

On the third world this still means nothing. Even if they cannot use the phone, they can sell it for spare parts, so the market value is still there since you can buy a new screen for your Galaxy S4 for 80 bucks instead of spending another 600 bucks for a new phone. Batteries can be sold, SD cards can be sold, the case and parts of the case can be sold, querty keyboards can be sold... We need something that destroy the phone and all its parts so it cannot be used even for spare parts for other phones.
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June 25, 2013 6:49:22 AM

Great, now we will have phone "chop" shops springing up all over the place. If I steal someone's phone, all I need to do is immediately turn it off or pull the battery if possible. Then I disassemble, sell the parts, and profit. The kill code did not have a chance to brick the phone. This helps how?
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June 25, 2013 7:57:16 AM

Not sure this works. Either the buyer will get scammed and get a broken phone or the thief will have to steal yet another phone to get his money. The actual owner of the phone gains nothing. Only the knowledge that his property can be made worthless with the push of a button. Good job.
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June 25, 2013 8:08:34 AM

Using the built in GPS to find the thief will be a much better way to stop this type of crime. A lot of smartphones have nonremoveable batteries anyway.
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June 25, 2013 3:22:12 PM

catfishtx said:
Great, now we will have phone "chop" shops springing up all over the place. If I steal someone's phone, all I need to do is immediately turn it off or pull the battery if possible. Then I disassemble, sell the parts, and profit. The kill code did not have a chance to brick the phone. This helps how?

If they do this properly and thoroughly:
- system-level authentication enumerates all authentication keys during the boot sequence on the CPU, camera DSP, RF ICs, display controller, touch controller, etc.'s secure microcontrollers - each component is factory-programmed with authentication keys for all the components the finished device shipped with
- the authentication set is checked to verify that all components are authorized to work together and if they aren't (unauthorized part/repair), the offending parts simply refuse to complete initialization
- when the device eventually gets a chance to phone home, any remaining parts that have also been reported stolen get disabled
- the 'disabled' state may however let some subsystems like GPS and RF operate in limited mode - just enough to report GPS coordinates to authorities

The screen (which is often fused with the front glass and touch sensor) and main PCB are the most valuable parts of a smartphone or tablet so if both of them and most modular stuff containing microcontrollers are kill-switched, the rest of the phone except for the battery is largely worthless even as parts since manufacturer intervention is required to re-program authentication sets after swapping components.
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June 25, 2013 7:47:15 PM

So why would the government have the ability to wipe your phone? I know I will NEVER get one now. Dont support companys that work with the government to enslave you further that you already are.
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July 11, 2013 10:56:23 PM

Someone claims that we already have a kill-switch - a central IMEI database - and they don't work. This is bullshit. What we have is carriers desperately avoiding using using it for the past 6 years or so. Even today, the major US carriers don't check or populate the main, standard (GSMA-run) international database of stolen IMEIs/ESNs. They just started using their own, new, US-only database instead. Because that way, their sales will not suffer, which they would if they started doing the moral thing and all used the same database. This is NOT conjecture. Pretty much the only folks who have used the int'l database are the folks who've been required to do so by law - the Australians - for around 5 years now.
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July 11, 2013 10:58:47 PM

The int'l database, if broadly implemented, WOULD be effective. The value of a stolen phone would plummet, because while yes, IMEIs can be reprogrammed on some phones, it's a lot more difficult than, say rooting or unlocking a phone.
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July 23, 2013 5:33:57 AM

I've had one of the most intense WTF moments of the past few days when i saw the picture of this article! I'm not on a DayZ website, am i?
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!