Smartphone Kill-Switch Coming to Devices in July 2015

The CTIA wireless association announced this week an agreement with other wireless companies and smartphone makers to include a kill-switch starting July 2015, which can be pre-installed or downloadable on wireless smartphones for free. The move is expected to diminish the number of smartphone thefts that take place each year.

According to the CTIA, when a smartphone is lost or stolen, the device owner can use the free tool to remote wipe all data. The phone can also be rendered useless by remotely locking the device with a password or PIN number. Users can even prevent reactivation without an authorized user's permission, and reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user.

The new "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" is the most recent effort by the industry to deter smartphone thefts in the U.S. As the title indicates, this move is completely voluntary, and includes the following participants: Apple Inc.; Asurion; AT&T; Google Inc.; HTC America, Inc.; Huawei Device USA; Motorola Mobility LLC; Microsoft Corporation; Nokia, Inc.; Samsung Telecommunications America, L.P.; Sprint Corporation; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; and Verizon Wireless.

"We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen. This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain," said Steve Largent, President and CEO, CTIA.

Apple has already done its part with the iPhone, as iOS 7 features a service called "Activation Lock" that prevents a lost or stolen iPhone from being reactivated (even if the device is reset). This service automatically turns on when users turn on Find My Phone, allowing them to erase the device, turn off Find My Phone on the device, and then reactivate and use the device.

Google has done its part as well with the Android Device Manager. Users can go online to lock their Android device, erase all data, and send a ringtone in case the device is somewhere in the near vicinity. The web interface includes a large map, showing users exactly where the device is if the GPS is still on.

"It's important different technologies are available so that a 'trap door' isn't created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals," said Largent. "By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users' personal information on smartphones."  

Minnesota State Representative Joe Atkins said that the Minnesota legislature is poised to pass the nation's first 'kill switch' law as early as next week. California State Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón have also proposed a mandatory kill switch law.

  • Neve12ende12
    You forgot to mention that Microsoft has also done what Google has done.
  • Kelthar
    How effective will it be? Will this simply be an OS trigger, or will it trigger something on a lower level, like the bootloader?

    AFAIK, on current Android devices, a lock can be removed if the device is wiped using recovery. Would this stop that? I know the data is the most important thing to wipe, but if the devices were turned completely inoperable then thieves would be left with no reason to rob people of their phones.
  • meltbox360
    BlackBerry has had this for how many years now?
  • clonazepam
    I wish this had been around years ago on laptops. I get a letter at least twice a year from the federal government that all of my personal information, residing on a laptop, had been stolen.
  • rabidmob
    I'm sure the NSA is thankful for this.
  • Zepid
    This will kill the legitimate 2nd hand handset market. With people selling their phones to buyers, then killing it out of spite.

    It will specifically hurt the no-credit loan business where cellphones are often used as small lone collateral or collateral for pay-day advance loans. People won't want to loan on phones anymore for fear of users who loan them and fail to pay killing the phone out of spite.
  • spentshells
    This will be abused by damn near everyone
  • netmind
    What would actually happen: thiefs would soon get aware of this thing and would just power off phones and sell them for spare parts, etc. So in most cases you'll not see your phone back. On other hand, its very nice option to do all sorts of nasty things remotely on legitimate user in very nasty, privacy-breaking ways. So, more NSA spyware in your pocket, eh? I'm not going to buy this crap for me. Go to hell, NSA.