Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Why a smartphone 'kill switch' won't stop phone theft

Al Sacco | April 21, 2014
Yesterday, wireless industry group CTIA announced a partnership between many of the major smartphone makers and all of the leading U.S. wireless carriers that's designed to enable smartphone "kill-switch" functionality on handsets sold in the United States after July 2015.

Yesterday, wireless industry group CTIA announced a partnership between many of the major smartphone makers and all of the leading U.S. wireless carriers that's designed to enable smartphone "kill-switch" functionality on handsets sold in the United States after July 2015.

The partnership, called the "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment," comes after months of mounting pressure from consumer advocates and politicians on device manufacturers and carriers to implement a kill switch system that could make lost or stolen devices useless, therefore dissuading would-be thieves.

In February, California introduced a bill calling for a mandatory kill switch for mobile phones; shortly thereafter, the U.S. Senate proposed similar federal legislation. Since then, a number of additional related bills were introduced, including another federal bill from the U.S. House of Representatives and one from Minnesota that could be passed "as early as next week," according to Minn. State Representative Joe Atkins. ts

Voluntary Kill Switch Takes Remote Security a Step Further

Many leading smartphone manufacturers, and some carriers, already offer "find-my-phone" features that let users remotely lock and locate their devices. But the majority of these solutions simply reset smartphones to factory settings after a certain number of failed password attempts, which makes them prime goods on the black market.

The CTIA partnership includes a provision that blocks factory resets and makes stolen devices useless after a certain number of failed password attempts, which drastically reduces the street value of devices that have the kill-switch functionality enabled.

A recent report from Associate Professor of Statistics, Data Science and Analytics at Creighton University, William Duckworth, suggests a system like the one proposed by the CTIA partnership could save consumers as much as $2.6 billion a year, due largely to reduced insurance premiums. Until yesterday, it was common belief that wireless carriers resist the implementation of such a kill switch because it would mean less profit from such premiums and from replacing and/or reactivation stolen devices.

If you read the CTIA announcement, you might notice that the word "voluntary" shows up quite often. Indeed, the word is in the official name of the partnership. That use of "voluntary" refers to the fact that device makers and carriers are agreeing to implement a kill-switch system before legislators force it on them.

The more important application of the word applies to smartphone users, because this kill switch is also voluntary for them. In other words, it will be up to consumers to enable the functionality, just like passwords today. Like passwords, consumers will presumably need some sort of passcode to remotely access the kill-switch feature.

The fact is that many smartphone users simply can't be bothered with passwords and don't consider security until it's too late.

 

1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.