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2/15/2014
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Smartphone Kill Switch Could Become Federal Law

Smartphone Theft Protection Act would require mobile phone makers to include a way to disable communications devices remotely to deter theft.

Android Security: 8 Signs Hackers Own Your Smartphone
Android Security: 8 Signs Hackers Own Your Smartphone
(click image for larger view)

A week after California State Senator Mark Leno (D-CA) proposed a bill requiring a kill switch for smartphones sold in the state, federal lawmakers have put forward a similar bill.

On Thursday, US Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced national legislation to require a way to disable smartphones remotely. The goal is to deter theft and protect consumers, but this defense against thieves might come with greater vulnerability to hackers, according to a mobile industry trade group.

Certainly, mobile phone theft is a serious problem. Mobile phone thefts account for 30% to 40% of all robberies in major cities nationwide, according to the FCC, and that figure is said to be as high as 50% in markets like San Francisco. According to Consumer Reports, 1.6 million Americans were victimized by smartphone thieves in 2012.

"Cell phone theft has become a big business for thieves looking to cash in on these devices and any valuable information they contain, costing consumers more than $30 billion every year and endangering countless theft victims," Senator Klobuchar said in a statement. "This legislation will help eliminate the incentives for criminals to target smartphones by empowering victims to take steps to keep their information private, protect their identity and finances, and render the phone inoperable to the thieves."

[Smartphones will only become more ubiquitous. Read 1 Billion Smartphones Shipped In 2013.]

The text of the Smartphone Theft Protection Act is not yet available online and a call to Senator Klobuchar's office was not immediately returned.

Law enforcement officials, notably San Francisco district attorney George Gascón and New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, have been pushing phone makers to adopt kill switches since last year. But mobile carriers have resisted, according to Gascón, because they make billions annually from selling theft insurance to their subscribers.

Image: Bill Selak (Flickr)
Image: Bill Selak (Flickr)

The mobile industry says a kill switch requirement could increase the chance of being hacked. The CTIA, a telecom industry group, points out that a kill switch would necessarily be triggered by the remote transmission of a kill message and the technical details involved would be widely known among mobile operators. Inevitably, the group argues, hackers would learn how to send these messages maliciously, thereby shutting down phones permanently -- a kill switch is no good if it's reversible because thieves would presumably be able to use the same recovery tools as theft victims.

"[A kill switch] could be used to disable entire groups of customers, such as Department of Defense, Homeland Security or emergency services/law enforcement," says the CTIA, which has been promoting software tracking and data erasure options for smartphones alongside theft prevention measures and phone insurance.

The urge to create electronic tethers to protect property has moved beyond mobile phones in Europe, where authorities reportedly have been developing a kill switch for cars as a defense against dangerous car chases.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
2/19/2014 | 1:05:36 PM
Re: Still a bad idea
That's a great point, one would imagine that as soon as technology enabled tracking (GPS in Smartphone etc), law enforcement would be more than willing to track the stolen phone. Granted, the value of a phone is not equal to the amount it costs to carry out a recovery operation however, if it becomes common knowledge that tracking will be used then in the long run criminals would not want to risk it.

 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
2/19/2014 | 8:31:32 AM
Re: Still a bad idea
I think you hit the nail right on the head.  There are many free and built in services to locate or wipe a lost device.  Android and iOS both have these built in you just have to activate them.  The problem comes when the device is stolen and you get no help getting it back.  There are a handful of vigilante videos and stories floating around out there and I hope that trend does not continue because eventually someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed trying to get their phone back.
tkeller852
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tkeller852,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/18/2014 | 7:24:28 PM
Re: Still a bad idea
This whole idea has been totally made folly by law enforcement and the carriers.  I had my phone stolen, I tracked it very easily using the child location feature available as a trial and told them the address in a trailor park aross town where it was located,

The response was universal, we don't bother with stolen cell phones. exercise your insurance to get it replaced.

Until it results in some consequence for someone other than we simple customers, nothing is going to change.

They shut it off with protest till I suggested legal action.  It then only took minutes for it to no longer make calls.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
2/18/2014 | 4:39:53 PM
Re: The end of America as we know it
I believe that there is two sides of this. One side is consumers. They believe that it is ridiculous given where technology is that wireless carriers aren't capable of kill switches. 

The reality is that the carriers are capable of doing it. The problem, however, is that implementing this is going to cost money and time that the carrier would rather utilize in the form of making more money. Kill switches don't make a carrier money, it's just another regulation that they will have to eat costs on. 
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
2/18/2014 | 4:37:04 PM
DARPA is working on its own approach
For a look at how the Kill switch might actually work, read one approach DARPA is funding: IBM Develops Self-Destructing Chips For DARPA.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
2/17/2014 | 11:27:34 PM
Optional would be nice...
This reminds me of that quote Peter Arnett attributed to that US Major years ago...

"It became necessary to destroy the town to save it."

So...great...  Let's mandate a huge vulnerability in all devices, because that's what's necessary to protect them.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
2/17/2014 | 11:24:59 PM
Re: Don't need it don't want it
@Whoopty: And then, of course, create an additional market for smartphone security software makers.  ;)
owade83
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owade83,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2014 | 12:09:24 PM
Good Information All Of My Frnds
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>>>>>>> www.bay91.com
BellaLeirTingle
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BellaLeirTingle,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2014 | 11:06:48 AM
Just Some Thoughts....
1) The kill switch and insurance have nothing do do with one another. Software is not covered under device protection plans.

2) Device / Handset insurance only covers physical damage to the phone. Software related issues are the responsibility of the device owner.

3) Insurance companies started to loose LARGE sums of moeny on LT (Loss & Theft Claims) so they are actually starting to exclude L/T from policies unless you pay a large premium, with a large deductible.

4) MDM and most BYOD programs implemented by companies already have kill switches remotly installed via app on their devices so they can protect company data in the event of a breach (i.e. theft of device)

5) Most people have the capacity to do this on their own through an app. This is like the Federal Government coming into our homes and telling us we have to have anti-virus software on our PC's due to identity theft.

 

Sorry Government. My device. My money. My risk. Concentrate on educating the public on how they are able to protect themselves, instead of passing a law to give a third-party access to my device, who I did not authorize. Don't. Think. So.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
2/17/2014 | 8:57:07 AM
Re: Still a bad idea
I was making "need" as a desire without the willingness to pay for security and "demand" as the willingness to pay for security either directly or indirectly by education/updating their security procedures. At the most it would take someone about an hour to for example, locate the Android Device Manager page on their computer and setup "lock and ease".

You make a valid point, if phone companies are profiting with huge sums of profits by not enable security then security will continue to remain a secondary, on the flip side it is also important for phone companies to have a consumer base that uses their data plan (generating revenue), just like Google likes it when consumers are online and generating data.
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