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Mobile phone theft could be a thing a past after both Google and Microsoft agreed to add remote operated ‘kill switches’ to their smartphone operating systems.

The feature allows owners the chance to render a phone completely useless if the device is stolen; essentially making any potential phone thefts pointless.

The move from Google and Microsoft follows in the footsteps of both Samsung and Apple, who implemented a similar kill switch feature on their latest phone models earlier this year.

Currently, a user without the kill switch would have to report a stolen smartphone to their network carrier, requesting to have it disabled.

How does it work?

The new kill switch, depending on method, would render a phone unusable if, either a tracking feature was turned off (like the iPhone), or a secure ‘kill code’ was sent from the true owner.

How a kill switch will be implemented would be up to the individual manufacturer or operating system. On new the new iOS7, the phone is shut down if a thief attempts to turn off the “Find My iPhone”, a program that locates missing devices.

The Samsung S5 can be automatically locked by authorized technicians, and data can be remotely deleted if requested by the original owner.

Corruptible

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There is, however a downside to the kill switch idea. In the current climate of hackers and malicious software security specialists believe a ‘kill switch’ would be an attractive target to hackers.

With a few select logins or code crackers could find out the kill message on a phone and disable it remotely, possibly en masse. Naturally, this is a particular risk for workers in the military, government or law enforcement.

But will it deter thefts?

Whether or not a kill switch will directly deter thefts is a little difficult to predict. Will thieves actually consider a kill switch in the act of stealing? Or will they simply ignore it and sell the phone on in pieces, for higher value components inside?

Some cities have begun measuring crime rates in relation to phones. In San Francisco, robberies of iPhones were 38 percent lower in the six months after the iOS 7 ‘kill switch’ introduction, compared to the six months before.

Many believe that for the kill switch to be true deterrent, the technology needs to be introduced to all new phones. A blanket policy that will mean there is no doubt any phone, if stolen, is useless and cannot be sold. With Google and Microsoft now on board this may be coming closer to a reality.

 

What do you think, will a kill switch eradicate phone theft, or will criminals simply ignore it and sell the phone for its valuable parts?
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7 COMMENTS

  1. I think that this will cut done on phones getting stolen provided that the phone is marked with a warning that the phone can be killed.

    I have a situation at the moment where the phone account holder had killed my phone. She lives in Canada and killed it. Reason is not clear as the phones where on a contract and upgraded on the same contract. Then three months ago the phone stopped working. At least I have stopped paying for the phone.

  2. Good Article.
    This is something that has been needed for years. A good (recoverable) kill switch system could prevent a lot of thefts.
    If for example a theft has taken place and the owner reports it online, the phone tracking system should auto-activate and should go to a police centre to allow recovery of the phone and arrest of the perptrator.
    There needs to be a very clear cut way to sell on rights to the phone, so the registered owner can sell it on and then not have rights to the kill switch in future.
    I also think that to save on discarded devices, there should be phone hand in points such as at local post offices, where killed phones can be returned and the phone directs people in possession of the phones to the nearest one.
    That way people without phone insurance have a chance of at least recovering their phone, perhaps it can be returned for a small fee, such as safe carriage/postage charge. £10 or so if possible.

  3. i don’t think this will stop thefts at all, if you look at ebay, the amount of iphone’s with icloud lock for sale at stupid prices is amazing, and yet theres still a market for them. Still this is going in the right direction, perhaps a self destruct is the next security measure “ahh i see your missing a thumb, a stolen phone blew up on you eh?!” 🙂

  4. i don’t think this will stop thefts at all, if you look at ebay, the amount of iphone’s with icloud lock for sale at stupid prices is amazing, and yet theres still a market for them. Still this is going in the right direction, perhaps a self destruct is the next security measure “ahh i see your missing a thumb, a stolen phone blew up on you eh?!” 🙂

  5. Good Idea. But how to get around the thief removing the SIM card and immediately placing it in another phone to start ringing premium rate numbers and make their money that way. That can quickly rack up more money than the value of the phone which was stolen.

  6. Maybe its time for the phone and the sim card to be combined and then the system would work, these days with wi-fi, bluetooth, not to mention cloud storage, it’s easy to backup your phone regularly. It would just be cased to transfer the data to a new phone or device, job done.

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