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Samsung May Be Adding Kill Switch for Stolen Smartphones

By - Source: Huffington Post | B 35 comments

To fight smartphone theft, Samsung is supposedly one of the first to add a kill switch that will essentially brick the stolen device.

On June 13, reps from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung attended a behind-closed-doors meeting with New York’s Attorney General Erich Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon to talk about their failure in addressing the rising epidemic of smartphone and tablet theft.

Phone theft in New York and various other cities in the United States has supposedly increased by over 40 percent since last year: that's around 1.6 million Americans in a 12-month period. These four companies represent 90 percent of the world's smartphone population, so it's easy to assume that they have some responsibility in asserting some kind of anti-theft tool.

"The theft of handheld devices is the fastest-growing street crime, and increasingly, incidents are turning violent,” Schneiderman said in a statement earlier this month. "It’s time for manufacturers to be as innovative in solving this problem as they have been in designing devices that have reshaped how we live.”

Here's the problem: smartphones are being stolen, then resold at half their listed price. Thus, not only would a stolen iPhone 5 16 GB model contain the user's personal information (pictures, email address, credit card number etc), but bring in a good $325, around half the $650 price tag, once it has been wiped clean and reverted to its out-of-the-box state. No one but the thief/reseller is getting that cash.

"This has become a national epidemic," Gascon said. "Unlike other types of crimes, smartphone theft can be eradicated with a simple technological solution."

The solution, it seems, is to install a "kill switch" that will allow a manufacturer, carrier, and possibly even the government to remotely lock, wipe and disable any smartphone or tablet. The device will be left totally useless, unable to be used on a new carrier and/or with a new SIM card. It might as well be bricked.

Samsung is reportedly one of the first to implement such a kill switch, and is supposedly gearing up to release a solution to smartphone owners as early as July 1. The news stems from Gascon who said the company disclosed its plans in the meeting, that the solution will render devices entirely inoperable, even if SIM cards are switched out or the firmware is hacked. Thus, these "bricked" devices will have no market value whatsoever.

The news follows Apple's announcement of an "activation lock" feature which will require a password to be entered before a stolen iPhone can be reactivated. Apple believes this solution is a "really powerful theft deterrent", but Gascon indicated that it's not enough – it doesn't undermine the value of the stolen device.

"We have good reason to believe it will probably not go as far as what we're talking about," he told reporters. "We want something that will completely disable the phone."

Schneiderman and Gascon want all new products produced by the first part of 2014 to have kill switches or comparable technology already installed. Failure to meet this goal could lead to subpoenas for investigating why these companies are reluctant to install antitheft measures.

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  • 0 Hide
    internetlad , June 24, 2013 10:21 AM
    get your tin hats, boys.
  • 0 Hide
    FunSurfer , June 24, 2013 10:33 AM
    "This device will self-destruct in 5 seconds" pfffffftttttttttt... (smoke coming out)
  • 0 Hide
    Beahota , June 24, 2013 11:09 AM
    Doesn't blackberry protect allow you to wipe and lock your device remotely
  • Display all 35 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    digiex , June 24, 2013 11:25 AM
    The phones can still be sold as spare parts.
  • 0 Hide
    lhughey , June 24, 2013 11:28 AM
    Nice pic of the Samsung user, Tom's.
  • 0 Hide
    bnot , June 24, 2013 11:47 AM
    better to sell them as parts then since no one will know.
  • 0 Hide
    rwinches , June 24, 2013 11:49 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.
  • 0 Hide
    Vorador2 , June 24, 2013 11:53 AM
    Since iOS is adding one, Samsung has to play the "me too" game.
  • 0 Hide
    none12345 , June 24, 2013 12:02 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.
  • 0 Hide
    chuckchurch , June 24, 2013 12:25 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?
  • 0 Hide
    sonofliberty08 , June 24, 2013 12:38 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)
  • 1 Hide
    __-_-_-__ , June 24, 2013 12:50 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.
  • 0 Hide
    daekar , June 24, 2013 12:54 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...
  • 0 Hide
    belardo , June 24, 2013 1:34 PM
    Should make it expode or turn into a WP7 device... either way, a useless device.
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    bikeordie1 , June 24, 2013 1:43 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.
  • 0 Hide
    tinmann , June 24, 2013 1:50 PM
    If you report it stolen the gps should then act like a lojack and be able to lead you to the phone.
  • 0 Hide
    funguseater , June 24, 2013 2:13 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 $$$
  • 1 Hide
    Johmama , June 24, 2013 2:14 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.
  • 0 Hide
    CheesyHotDogPuff , June 24, 2013 2:20 PM
    Anyone reminded of Inspector Gadget?
  • 0 Hide
    eklipz330 , June 24, 2013 3:27 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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