New ‘Kill Switch’ To Become Standard In Cell Phones

Cell phone theft is on the rise in many countries. In the U.S., pressures from law makers and consumers have pushed companies to acknowledge the need for countermeasures. After July 2015, all new wireless devices associated with the companies that are part of the agreement will have access to a ‘kill switch.’

Although many believe this is a good step in preventing cell phone thefts, others think it’s not enough.

“The wireless industry today has taken an incremental yet inadequate step to address the epidemic of smartphone theft. Only weeks ago, they claimed that the approach they are taking today was infeasible and counterproductive. While I am encouraged they are moving off of that position so quickly, today’s ‘opt-in’ proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablets,” said California State Senator Mark Leno.

Like-minded parties believe that the kill switch in cell phones, tablets and e-readers should not be controlled by users. Instead, they believe the kill switches should be made automatic.

Not everyone believes that, though. Steve Largent, president of the CTIA (the wireless industry group), explained that the kill switch will remain voluntary for users “so that a ‘trap door’ isn’t created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals.”

“This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain.”

What is a kill switch and why does it need to be protected from hackers?

In this use of the term, it means that when someone’s cell phone, or wireless device, is reported stolen or lost, a switch will be activated that will wipe the phone of all information and make it so that the phone cannot be reactivated without the owner’s authentication. There are some fears circulating around the possibility of hackers using any mandatory program in phones to wipe a large amount of devices in a short amount of time. That means it could lower the threat of theft but raise the threat of other crimes, some that may not yet even be an issue.

The kill switch program, dubbed Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment, has been signed by: Apple Inc., Asurion, AT&T, Google Inc., HTC America Inc., Huaqei Device USA, Motorola Mobility LLC, Microsoft Corporation, Nokia Inc, Samsung Telecommunications America L.P., Sprint Corporation, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. Already, Samsung and Apple have anti-theft features that find and/or lock stolen cell phones, but the kill switch will be more user-friendly and easier to activate.

SB962 is a bill to be heard in the California Senate that would take out the factor of the owner’s participation and mandate the kill switch. In New York, Illinois and Minnesota, similar legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress.