Samsung Kill Switch Rejected

Smartphone theft is a big problem. In the UK 300,000 phones are reported stolen each year and in the US 1 in 3 thefts are of mobile phones. Thieves can make a lot of money selling on stolen smartphones.

But when your phone is stolen, you can lose much more than just the cost of the handset. If a thief can crack your phone password they then can gain access to all your other personal information, often including bank details.

Samsung has developed a way of preventing the sale of stolen phones. Their proposed kill switch would render a stolen phone completely useless and consequently worthless on the black market.

If your phone is stolen, you would be able to use another internet device to kill your stolen phone, by entering your personal information and password. Then a kill message, possibly in the form of an SMS, will be sent to the phone, immediately deactivating it. Once the phone is killed it is never able to be reactivated.

Law officials who back the plan are calling for kill switches to be universal in all smartphones, as a deterrent to thieves, who would come to realise that stealing mobile phones is fruitless as they are unable to be reused.

However US mobile phone carriers are opposing the plan for the kill switch, claiming it could be misused by hackers. Samsung already pre-installed the kill switch software into some of its smartphones ready for release, but mobile phone carriers ordered it to be removed.

A mobile industry group, CTIA said there would be the potential for hackers to disable the phones of important people, such as law enforcement officials and those in the Department of Defence.

"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," asks James Moran, a British security adviser.

However, George Gascon, a member of the Save Our Smartphones coalition, which Samsung worked with to develop the kill switch, believes that the rejection by carriers was made with only their profit in mind. Gascón suggested that "the carriers are concerned that the software would eat into the profit they make from the insurance programs many consumers buy to cover lost or stolen phones."

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Is a kill switch a good idea? Or a hacker's paradise?

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Written by Isabelle Barker