Your Next Smartphone Could Have a Kill Switch

Security measures used by smartphone makers and carriers could render a stolen iPhone worthless

Manufacturers like HTC, Apple, and Samsung have agreed to voluntarily implement the anti-theft technology.

Thanks to government threats to impose mandatory federal laws concerning cellphone security, smartphone makers and carriers have decided to create some rules of their own.

Companies like Apple, Samsung, HTC, and Nokia, and carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, have agreed to implement a kill switch system to deter smartphone thefts.

The policy announcment came from CTIA- The Wireless Association, a wireless communications trade group.

The kill switch would allow cell phone carriers or smartphone companies to remotely disable service to a smartphone when certain conditions have been met; for example, when your phone is reported as stolen.

The plan will go into effect for new smartphones made after July 2015.

Here’s a list of the anti-theft measures outlined by CTIA:

- Remote wipe the authorized user’s data (i.e., erase personal info that is added after purchase such as contacts, photos, emails, etc.) that is on the smartphone in the event it is lost or stolen.

- Render the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (e.g., locking the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications, and if available, emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user (e.g., “phone home”).

- Prevent reactivation without authorized user’s permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible (e.g., locking the smartphone as in 2 above).

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- Reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user and restore user data on the smartphone to the extent feasible (e.g., restored from the cloud).

While the move is a definite step in the right direction in terms of smartphone security and consumer safety, many think the CTIA as well as manufacturers and carriers can do better.

Both New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón released a joint statement addressing the voluntary security additions.

“We strongly urge CTIA and its members to make their anti-theft features enabled by default on all devices, rather than relying on consumers to opt-in,” the joint statement read. “The industry also has a responsibility to protect its consumers now and not wait until next year. Every week that passes means more people are victimized in street crimes that often turn violent, and more families will have to endure the needless loss of a loved one.”

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