November 20, 2013
Samsung’s Smartphone ‘Kill Switch’ Reportedly Nixed By Carriers
In an effort to comply with the Secure Our Smartphones (SOS) initiative led by the New York State Attorney General's office, Samsung has developed a "kill switch" that will allow users to disable their smartphone if it becomes lost or stolen. The major US carriers have rejected the software measure, saying it leaves smartphones vulnerable to hackers, the Associated Press reports.
The SOS initiative calls for measures to be built into smartphones that would help consumers protect themselves. The initiative suggests a "kill switch" to render stolen devices inoperable and make it so the phone can no longer be reactivated.Now that a solution is available, carriers are standing in the way. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, United States Cellular Corp, Sprint, and T-Mobile US have made it clear that they do not want Samsung to make this "LoJack" anti-theft software a standard feature in the smartphone manufacturer's line, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said on Monday.
Carrier fears concerning the "kill switch" are backed by CTIA, the Wireless Association, a trade group for wireless providers. "The CTIA says a permanent kill switch has serious risks, including potential vulnerability to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out not only individuals' phones but also phones used by entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies," the Associated Press reports.
"The problem is how do you trigger a kill switch in a secure manner and not be compromised by a third party and be subjected to hacking," the AP quoted James Moran, a security adviser with the GSMA, a UK-based wireless trade group that has overseen a global stolen mobile phone database and is currently helping to create a US version. While the concerns are valid, some believe that other factors are at stake such as the carriers' revenue. Attorney General Gascon gained access to a series of emails exchanged between Samsung and US cell phone carriers.
"These emails suggest that the carriers are rejecting a technological solution so they can continue to shake down their customers for billions of dollars in (theft) insurance premiums," Glascon was quoted by the AP. "I'm incensed … This is a solution that has the potential to end the victimization of their customers."
Cell phone theft is on the rise. In San Francisco last year, the New York Times reports that nearly half of all robberies involved a cell phone, an increase of 36 percent over the previous year. In Washington, cell phones were taken in 42 percent of robberies. In New York, 14 percent of all crimes involved the theft of an iPhone or iPad.
A national database logging stolen cell phones is scheduled to go into effect on November 30, though the database's ability to recover stolen cell phones is limited. The New York Times reports that carriers say they have faith in the database, which was created through a collaboration between carriers and police departments across the country. Some carriers are acting on their own in tandem with these efforts. Verizon logs stolen phone details in its own database so that devices reported stolen cannot be reactivated on its network.
While there is some disagreement on the "kill switch" vulnerabilities, similar measures have been implemented by Amazon under the Kindle line of Android devices. If a Kindle owner reports the brand's tablet stolen or lost, Amazon can freeze the tablet and export all data from the tablet to the cloud. When the Kindle tablet is recovered all data can be restored once Amazon has been notified. Alternately, all data can easily be transferred to a new Amazon Kindle tablet if it is replaced.