Kill Switch for Smartphones Coming Next Year

The biggest cell phone manufacturers plan on having “kill switches” a standard feature on smartphones sometime in 2015. These “kill switches” would be able to remotely disable the device, effectively wiping all data from memory. Advocates say that this will deter thieves from stealing cell phones, which seems to me that it would. People store a bunch of sensitive information on their phones, and some people (with questionable morals) look to get this information. Maybe they want to steal the person’s identity, get information about another person, etc. With the “kill switch”, once you determine that your phone has been stolen or lost, you can wipe that device clean and have peace of mind.
I tried to think of some disadvantages to having standard “kill switches” on cell phones, but I am having a hard time coming up with any. I ask myself, why hasn’t this feature been standard a long time ago? Well, according to this article, “they fear hackers exploiting remote-kill technology, while critics accuse the industry of not wanting to lose revenue from replacing and activating stolen phones.” Unfortunately, money seems to win out over common sense sometimes.
Although this is an opt-in feature, continued pressure from legislature will probably push carriers to offer it as an opt-out feature in the near future.

5 Responses to Kill Switch for Smartphones Coming Next Year

  1. I think this is an interesting concept. I believe apple products have something like a kill switch if someone’s phone were to be stolen or lost and they feared letting their information get into the hands of someone who would misuse it. I know that you can add the setting on it where if someone fails at guessing your password ten times, the phone will erase itself. There is also the Find my Iphone app where you can locate where your phone is and if it is somewhere undesirable, then you can erase it then and there if you so choose. I am not sure about these features on Android technology. These features are very helpful for those that know how to effectively use technology, but it also clears all hope of retrieving the phone in the future. In some states I know stealing a cell phone is considered identity theft and can have severe consequences. I believe that kill switches can be essential in today’s modern technology times. Although the next best step would be to create the same software that will allow you to use the kill switch but you must verify that it is your own phone. It should have some type of formal identification method or something in order to kill the phone because if a hacker were to access this kill switch, they could effectively erase data on people’s phones at unnecessary times. They should also make kill switches for things like tablets, and laptops because those are also vital sources of information that if stolen, anyone could acquire.

  2. I can see that the issue about kill switch for smartphones is not too easy to be settled and dismissed. There are valid arguments from both sides that made this issue quite interesting. After some research, I found that the State of California has
    rejected the “kill switch” requirement legislation for smartphones. The most interesting part of the article is how close the tally came to be. “Failing to reach a minimum of 21 votes in favor, the final tally was 19 yes’s to 17 no’s, with one senator not voting.” The 19 versus 17 tally proved that even senators are not quite sold to either side of the argument. It is understandable because although there are concerns about misuse of the function, the plan could possibly discourage thieves who intend to resell the smartphones. However, opposition of the plan noted that wiping the software and data of the phones would eventually be proved ineffective as thieves will still be able to sell the hardware of the phones. The article also states that a federal bill regarding the issue is undergoing process. It will be exciting to watch how the story unravels at the national level.

  3. Referring back to User KayRuffins’ comment. I believe there is a current “killswitch” for Apple.
    Apple has the iCloud option currently. You can erase your device. One can simply login there iCloud account and go to find my phone. After that, they can use the erase device option to erase the device’s information.
    Positive things i think about the killswitch option extended to smartphones is that, people would be obviously less likely to steal phones. I have had countless friends lose phones at school gyms. But with the killswitch, if the robbbers steal a phone. They would basically have a useless phone that they cannot retrieve data from or unlock. Granted this is a locking algorithm that I feel like at one point someone is going to crack. However, not every robber is a expect hacker!
    Negative things i think about is: Expanding on the hacker’s subject. A Hacker may decide to just for fun hack the killswitch system. They can killswitch a bunch of phones which would create a bunch of issues for the users and even for the companies who implemented the killswitch. Because killswitch like every algorithm is always crackable.

  4. CameronSchmidt

    This may seem like a fantastic idea, but I can’t help but be slightly worried about it. Remote features are a hackers dream. As far as I’m concerned, if a device can be remotely manipulated, it’s best to assume a dedicated hacker will be able to find a way to bypass authentication and abuse it. History has shown time and time again that we simply cannot trust hardware and software developers to make their products secure. For this reason, I think any sort of remote feature should have very little, if any long-term impact on the device itself.

    This, however, doesn’t mean we should just give up any attempts at securing our data from thieves! There are already very good ways to prevent an unwanted party from retrieving data from your computer. Full-disk encryption allows you to encrypt your device’s entire disk so that the only way to access any of its files is to enter the correct password at boot. If we used something similar to this with our phones, at thief would either have to erase the disk or be left with an unusable device. This solves the original problem in a much more conservative manner that doesn’t raise red flags for me.

  5. I think that this technology could be massively useful, but could also be a bit of a problem. If you install a feature that is accessed remotely that has permissions to do things such as a full wipe of all data, it’s only logical that it could be exploited. The implementation of this would have to be done in a way that would prevent other actions being performed other than a full wipe of data. Even if that was the case, however, this technology could still be used by hackers maliciously, even if it was just to wipe your data.

    I think that any technology with vulnerabilities such as this should at least have an opt-out feature. As Cameron mentioned, there are better ways to protect your data such as encryption without having to resort to this “remote killswitch.” Although this doesn’t seem likely now, what if in the future devices essentially become licensed for a number of years, and after X amount of time the killswitch is used by default as the license “expires?” Although unlikely, this technology could be abused in so many ways I don’t see it as a good thing at all.