Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Carriers Rejecting Plan To Add Smartphone Kill Switch

By - Source: The New York Times | B 25 comments
Tags :

Carriers think they're missing out on cash if a kill switch is implemented.

Back in June, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an initiative called Secure Our Smartphones, and a coalition of consumer advocates, police, prosecutors and other officials in an effort to put pressure on smartphone makers to stop smartphone theft and dry up the secondary market. One of the goals was the introduction of an industry-wide “kill switch” that would allow consumers to remotely render a stolen smartphone worthless.

Now five months later, the New York Times reports that wireless carriers are not keen with the idea. Gascón was reportedly working on a deal with Samsung Electronics to include antitheft software with its phones in the United States. Unfortunately, this software requires approval from the wireless carriers that service the phones: in this case, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint. All four rejected the idea of kill switch software.

If fact, according to Gascón, the carriers were downright unwilling. He reportedly viewed emails that took place between a Samsung executive and a software developer that revealed the four carriers’ reluctance to allow the software. The emails suggested that the four were more concerned about the profits made through insurance programs that are purchased to cover lost or stolen phones.

"Corporate profits cannot be allowed to guide decisions that have life-or-death consequences," Gascón said. "This solution has the potential to safeguard Samsung customers, but these emails suggest the carriers rejected it so they can continue to make money hand over fist on insurance premiums."

Yet the CTIA, the industry trade group that represents the carriers, has a point: what if the kill switch is installed and a hacker gains control of the phone? They could disable the device and lock owners out, including law enforcement and officials in the Department of Defense. Even more, if the customer deactivated the phone and then later retrieved it, the phone cannot be deactivated.

In the case of Apple’s Activation Lock, that’s not entirely true: the customer can disable the phone if it’s been lost, and then reactivate it with the correct username and password if found. For Android Device Manager, users can remotely lock their smartphone or tablet with a new password, or remotely reset the device to the original factory settings. The latter doesn’t stop thieves from selling the device on a secondary market, but at least the user data is mostly erased.

The CTIA reportedly supports a nationwide database meant to deactivate phones that have been reported stolen. The group also supports a legislation by Senator Charles E. Schumer that proposes to make it a crime to modify smartphones to circumvent the stolen phone database. Meanwhile, Gascón is reportedly evaluation what action can be taken against the carriers refusing to cooperate with the kill switch initiative.

"We have repeatedly requested that the carriers take steps to protect their customers. We are now evaluating what course of action will be necessary to force them to prioritize the safety of their customers over additional money in their pockets," he said.

Display 25 Comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 0 Hide
    d_kuhn , November 21, 2013 9:59 AM
    I'm no lawyer... but it seems to me that carriers stonewalling a needed safety feature to protect profits are at risk of exposing themselves to legal expenses that could dwarf those protected profits. How many successful wrongful death lawsuits would it take for them to feel the pain? How many mothers crying and telling the jury "my son would be alive today if his phone had been worthless to thieves... and THEY (trembling finger point) decided that their profits were more important than my son's life". Penny wise pound foolish.
  • 2 Hide
    vmem , November 21, 2013 10:01 AM
    when will we strop this stupid carrier controlled oligopoly in the US?

    I'm not a big fan of big government, but there need to be some regulations on what the carriers can and can't do, as well as how much they should be allowed to charge us for data
  • 0 Hide
    goodguy713 , November 21, 2013 10:05 AM
    instead of instituting a kill switch how about manufacturing a auto destruct function within the processor of the phone where once triggered it would literally render either the memory or specific section of the processor useless there by eliminating some one recovering or reusing the phone. make it to where it can be user implemented. only with specific passwords. kind of james bond but really it couldnt be to hard to implement something that would fuse or over volt a section of a processor or memory block.
  • 1 Hide
    InvalidError , November 21, 2013 10:21 AM
    Quote:
    instead of instituting a kill switch how about manufacturing a auto destruct function within the processor

    You misplace your phone, report it stolen, it gets killed, you or someone else finds it the next day, now you have to buy a new one because you fried it for nothing.

    A better thing to do would be to have phones report their major components by serial number so when a phone gets stolen and resold for parts, stolen parts can be tracked individually when they get used so authorities can hopefully track down the common origin of those stolen parts and get the thieves. If the stolen phone is sold whole, then the phone can be recovered and return to its original owner.

    If you just kill the phone, you lose the ability to track it for investigation and recovery.
  • 1 Hide
    Dirk_Funk , November 21, 2013 11:04 AM
    I think it's a little ridiculous to call this a "life or death" situation. People will still get mugged regardless of a kill switch.
  • 0 Hide
    falchard , November 21, 2013 11:06 AM
    With the way our government is now, I would reject a kill switch too. You know one day the government will want access to it to protect against terrorism or something.
  • 0 Hide
    rawoysters , November 21, 2013 11:12 AM
    Can't we already do this with 3rd party apps?
  • 0 Hide
    InvalidError , November 21, 2013 11:15 AM
    Quote:
    Can't we already do this with 3rd party apps?

    It wouldn't be half as effective as if it were built into the hardware, software and carrier systems.

    Without ban enforcement on the carrier's end of thing, all a thief needs to do is be smart enough to wipe the device to remove any anti-theft/tracking/remote-lock software that might be on it.
  • 0 Hide
    ssddx , November 21, 2013 11:23 AM
    and what problem does a kill switch fix?

    unless it fries everything in the phone it can still be sold for parts, data recovered from it, etcetera.

    all a kill switch does is add grief to people who lost a phone and then had it returned.
  • 0 Hide
    Grandmastersexsay , November 21, 2013 11:36 AM
    "The group also supports a legislation by Senator Charles E. Schumer that proposes to make it a crime to modify smartphones to circumvent the stolen phone database."

    So it would be illegal to install ROMs that don't include this goverment mandated back door? It could be argued that this would actually make it ilegal to root your phone. If you think this is about protecting the consumer you are retarded. This is about the NSA et al. having a guaranteed method of accessing your phone remotely.

    If this is such a problem, let the free market figure it out. Don't let the same people who can make a website slower than the mail be in charge of your smart phone's OS.
  • 1 Hide
    InvalidError , November 21, 2013 11:41 AM
    Quote:
    unless it fries everything in the phone it can still be sold for parts, data recovered from it, etcetera.

    Parts from a stolen phone can be tracked if serial numbers are added to each component's SoC for assemblies that have their own chip(s) on-board... all it takes is a little bit of extra software to read and report them. Data recovery is easily prevented by enabling device encryption with a reasonably strong password.

    Things would be much simpler if they weren't getting tied up in politics and other nonsense that almost always make things much more complicated than they should be.
  • 1 Hide
    ddpruitt , November 21, 2013 11:49 AM
    Quote:
    Yet the CTIA, the industry trade group that represents the carriers, has a point: what if the kill switch is installed and a hacker gains control of the phone?


    Ehh, no they don't. Think through your statement for a second. You use the kill switch if you lost the phone, if someone else has the phone then you kill it. Second the carriers would finally need to implement some real security and an easy way to unkill the phone. This is a good thing. Cars are stolen and recovered all the time, doesn't seem to be an issue with that system.
  • 0 Hide
    toadhammer , November 21, 2013 1:38 PM
    Equipment blacklists already exist (based on ESN/IMEI), and it's not hard to add or remove a number from a list. It's just not directly in the consumer's hands, and lists likely are not shared between carriers. So, report your loss to (e.g.) AT&T, and it's down. If it's unlocked, someone needs to tell TMobile. But then it can still go to Europe. In contrast, Apple does it at level Apple controls, the OS, not the network, controlled by the carrier, so one take-down call does them all. Google might be able to do the same.
  • 0 Hide
    JD88 , November 21, 2013 1:39 PM
    The idea is that the kill switches will make phone theft disappear. Why steal something that can't be easily monetized? Even if a "hacker" got the phone, there's nothing they could do if the signal was sent to the device the moment it powers on. Also, how many phones are found after they are "stolen?" This is very important to protect people from getting mugged which is a very real safety problem.


    To hell with the carriers. I would like to see Google start implementing this on all Nexus models right away.

    Also, this is a very poorly written article.

    "Even more, if the customer deactivated the phone and then later retrieved it, the phone cannot be deactivated."

    Kevin, do you even read this stuff before you post it?
  • 0 Hide
    Grandmastersexsay , November 21, 2013 2:34 PM
    Quote:
    The idea is that the kill switches will make phone theft disappear. Why steal something that can't be easily monetized? Even if a "hacker" got the phone, there's nothing they could do if the signal was sent to the device the moment it powers on. Also, how many phones are found after they are "stolen?" This is very important to protect people from getting mugged which is a very real safety problem.


    To hell with the carriers. I would like to see Google start implementing this on all Nexus models right away.

    Also, this is a very poorly written article.

    "Even more, if the customer deactivated the phone and then later retrieved it, the phone cannot be deactivated."

    Kevin, do you even read this stuff before you post it?



    So let the private sector handle the problem, if it is infact a problem. If people want that as an option, phone manufactures could easily implement something at the hardware level that completely bypasses any carrier involvement.

    Guess what? People don't want to pay extra for such an option. Now, if there is anything that I am certain about, it is that a government mandated option would be the most expensive option for the consumer. Anyone who thinks any added costs for the carriers wouln't be passed down directly to the consumer is a fool who knows nothing about business.
  • 0 Hide
    justacomment , November 21, 2013 2:46 PM
    I wonder if this is a little. would it not allow law enforcement to do the same to targeted phone through a software backdoor. do we actually need such software since each device has a known id and could simply be blocked from a common database of stolen phones. I really don't see a purpose to this software unless there is more to it than we see
  • 0 Hide
    Cy-Kill , November 21, 2013 9:40 PM
    'Even more, if the customer deactivated the phone and then later retrieved it, the phone cannot be deactivated.'

    Did anyone else catch that? It should read:

    "Even more, if the customer deactivated the phone and then later retrieved it, the phone cannot be *reactivated*."
  • 0 Hide
    actsai , November 22, 2013 3:44 PM
    I am on the "no kill" side of the fences, data is important, remotely wiping it out and/or locating perpentrator is suffice, is insurance mandatory in US? In either case Kill Switch is a misguided effort in reign in theft, there's no Kill Switch on laptops, wallets, you-name-it but they get stolen just as often.
  • 0 Hide
    InvalidError , November 22, 2013 4:10 PM
    Quote:
    In either case Kill Switch is a misguided effort in reign in theft, there's no Kill Switch on laptops, wallets, you-name-it but they get stolen just as often.

    If you could remotely lock-out your laptop, wallet, phone, tablet, you-name-it, their theft value would drop drastically since the risk of getting caught fencing stolen good is much higher and the value of stolen goods also becomes much lower: what are the thief's chances of selling a stolen phone or tablet if the devices display a nice little "This device has been reported lost or stolen and is currently locked-out" message when people attempt to turn it on within minutes of being reported lost/stolen?

    The device becomes practically unsellable even for parts if the lock-out gets propagated to all components with built-in microcontrollers.
  • 0 Hide
    Grandmastersexsay , November 22, 2013 7:12 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    In either case Kill Switch is a misguided effort in reign in theft, there's no Kill Switch on laptops, wallets, you-name-it but they get stolen just as often.

    If you could remotely lock-out your laptop, wallet, phone, tablet, you-name-it, their theft value would drop drastically since the risk of getting caught fencing stolen good is much higher and the value of stolen goods also becomes much lower: what are the thief's chances of selling a stolen phone or tablet if the devices display a nice little "This device has been reported lost or stolen and is currently locked-out" message when people attempt to turn it on within minutes of being reported lost/stolen?

    The device becomes practically unsellable even for parts if the lock-out gets propagated to all components with built-in microcontrollers.


    If people wanted this option there would be a manufacturer marketing such an option.

    Guess what? No one wants to pay extra for a safety measure they will most likely nevey use. The chances of getting something stolen are extremly small. This just doesn't make sense, unless you are a three letter government agency wanting deeper access to mobile operating systems.

    You should be at least some what skeptical that the Feds want to make this mandatory.
Display more comments