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Cellphones Crime Google Handhelds Microsoft Apple

Google and Microsoft Plan Kill Switches On Smartphones 137

Posted by timothy
from the ok-but-do-you-want-this-in-syria-or-china dept.
itwbennett (1594911) writes "Responding to more than a year of pressure, Google and Microsoft will follow Apple in adding an anti-theft "kill switch" to their smartphone operating systems. In New York, iPhone theft was down 19 percent in the first five months of this year. Over the same period, thefts of Samsung devices — which did not include a kill switch until one was introduced on Verizon-only models in April — rose by over 40 percent. In San Francisco, robberies of iPhones were 38 percent lower in the six months after the iOS 7 introduction versus the six months before, while in London thefts over the same period were down by 24 percent. In both cities, robberies of Samsung devices increased. 'These statistics validate what we always knew to be true, that a technological solution has the potential to end the victimization of wireless consumers everywhere,' said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon."
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Google and Microsoft Plan Kill Switches On Smartphones

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  • by roc97007 (608802) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:05AM (#47272429) Journal

    How does stealing smartphones relate to other types of crime? Is it really a thing at all? TFA gives percentage increases but no way to relate that to number of consumers, or actual monetary impact, so there's no way to tell if this is significant, or if it's a problem the average person is likely to run into.

    People being hit by falling pianos up 100% this year!

    It seems pretty obvious that this is being pursued because it gives the semblance of government helping consumers while at the same time giving government one more tool they can use to control the population. Because gee, that's never happened before...

    • by netsavior (627338) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:10AM (#47272477)
      Not to mention consumer confidence. If Google/MS has consumers convinced that their phone is *safe* people will trust it with more and more stuff. It is the same reason the best antivirus out there for windows is free from microsoft, they realized consumer confidence is very very powerful.

      If your phone is also your credit card and your medical records, and your financial planner, etc etc, well that is just more data for them to monetize.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      How does stealing smartphones relate to other types of crime? Is it really a thing at all?

      New iPhones are probably kept safe by extreme annoyances of iOS 7. If Apple allowed to downgrade iOS back to 6, the theft would go back up.

    • by LetterRip (30937) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:38AM (#47272803)

      3 million stolen last year, doubling compared to the previous year

      http://thinkprogress.org/econo... [thinkprogress.org]

      • Honestly, I don't know how this happens to people. You're walking around with a $600 bankroll. You keep it in your hands, or in your pocket, at all times. Don't just leave it places, and if you do, make sure it's not around sketchy folk.
        The number of thefts where you're sitting on the train next to the door and the thief steals it and books it right as the doors close is...not 3 million. Not anywhere close.

        watch my phone get stolen now.

        • by bloodhawk (813939)

          you vastly underestimate how brazen and opportunistic thieves are. It only takes a couple of seconds, perhaps you sit your phone down on the counter while you take your wallet out to pay for your coffee or it is slightly protruding from your pocket making it an easy target to pick. You give the example of securing a $600 bankroll, guess what, people with $600 bankrolls also get targeted and robbed all the time too.

    • by Bogtha (906264) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @12:03PM (#47273107)

      there's no way to tell if this is significant, or if it's a problem the average person is likely to run into.

      I spent approximately 5-10 seconds typing phone theft statistics into Google and it led me to the Office of National Statistics [ons.gov.uk], which says that 4% of 14-24 year-olds were victims of phone theft in the 2011/12 year.

      It seems pretty obvious that this is being pursued because it gives the semblance of government helping consumers while at the same time giving government one more tool they can use to control the population.

      It seems pretty obvious that people carrying small, expensive gadgets around with them are a prime target for thieves, that this is a legitimate, pervasive problem, and that this solution is effective in combating this crime.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by roc97007 (608802)

        4%, four out of 100, of very young people were victims of phone theft last year. With no knowledge of how many of these were teens losing their phones and telling their parents they were stolen, to save face. How is this a legitimate, pervasive problem? Compared to, oh let's go with, 20% of women getting raped on campus?

      • by N1AK (864906)

        It seems pretty obvious that people carrying small, expensive gadgets around with them are a prime target for thieves, that this is a legitimate, pervasive problem, and that this solution is effective in combating this crime.

        Plenty of things can seem pretty obvious, it doesn't make them true by definition. Having said that, the figures look like a good enough reason for other manufacturers to follow suit. If it turns out it's a statistical blip then thieves are still left with less viable phones (proceeds f

      • by drfool (1535489)
        Do you believe everything you read on the internet? What combats crime is good law enforcement, not self-destructing devices. Think of all the crime that this vulnerability (yes, it is a vulnerability by it's very nature - a remote activated DOS function) enables? You trust Apple to secure this interface? Yeah right, criminals have already turned your "crime-fighting" killswitch into ransomware. I highly doubt that ransomware fits your definition of "combatting crime". Cheers,
        • Bah, what really combats crime is a thriving middle class. But since we can't have that anymore, we are forced to resort to having jackbooted para-military police forces, and devices with kill switches.

      • It seems pretty obvious that people carrying small, expensive gadgets around with them are a prime target for thieves, that this is a legitimate, pervasive problem, and that this solution is effective in combating this crime.

        Do you know what would be as good of a solution and not give the government the ability to make our phones useless lumps of material? An IMEI blacklist. Gee. Why didn't they just implement that? Because they wanted to be able to stop the use of the phone as a recording device. They can already silence you but they did not have the ability, until now, to stop the phone from being a recording device.

    • by Matheus (586080)

      The whole correlation != causation deal... What else transpired in the period their number represent? For example Android has made huge strides in market share so maybe the 19 % decrease on the i-side and 40% increase on the Android side is just representative of the number of phones available for theft?

      Piss poor analysis!

  • by Kenja (541830) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:11AM (#47272503)
    No really... Apple has a patent on the kill switch. http://siliconangle.com/blog/2... [siliconangle.com]
    • It's not a real kill switch if it doesn't electrocute the thief, so doing that would improve the tech and avoid the patent at the same time!
    • by robsku (1381635)

      Seems like a different type of "kill" switch, in fact more like "mute" than "kill" - more sinister one at that too. From the article you linked it seems a bit unclear if this can be used for specific devices only or if it's a general "Mute" All Phones In 100m Radius only.

      ...even the less sinister use case examples of it sound unacceptable to me, for example: I'm generally against phone use in movie theatres, however I can stand a person who's work demands him to be "on call" (provided it's closer to "in cas

  • by taikedz (2782065) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:13AM (#47272519) Homepage Journal

    Whilst all this may be valid and true, how are we going to prevent the "wrong people" from using this kill switch? Will it be hardware based, in which case, how will we be sure it won't be triggered/used remotely if we install a different OS on the device? Or if some script kiddie found a way of activating it by exploiting an insecure app?

    (new hollywood armaggedon scenario: terrorists threaten to detonante a phone bomb that would activate kill switches around the world, bringing down entire civilizations)

    Yes, a technological solution might exist for the problem; question is, is this one the right one? Are we going to stop looking for alternatives?

    • You can bet the NSA and other government agencies are drooling over the prospect of getting access to this.

      If there's a Boston-type bombing, they would want to shut down cell phones in the area. That might even be a legitimate use, but next they'll want to use it preemptively around the President, then at the Superbowl.... and suddenly we've got tyranny.

      • by gtall (79522)

        Stop watching TV. The NSA and government agencies would want to keep the cell phone structure working so that (1) people affected can use their cell phones and not sue the government because the government shut them down, and (2) attempt to find out the perpetrators, which would be hard to do if the perps weren't squawking about their latest "victory".

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Hahahahahahahahahaha. Stop trusting that "they" give a fuck about you. They don't. When crisis hits, they WANT people isolated, to control the story, to keep it isolated, off the grid, and in the fog of war. And 'sue the government'? Don't make me laugh. They'd either cite National Security, or just not allow you to.

          Oh - you didn't realize you needed the government's PERMISSION to sue, did you?

          Thought so.

        • First, I don't watch TV, except for Cosmos and it's over. The gov has no interest in you or I using our cell phone. There is no constitutional right to a cell phone, so no basis for a case. They would want to prevent further cell-activated devices from going off. They want to shut everything down so that only they have control of the situation. That's how SWAT teams, etc. work.
          • by BobMcD (601576)

            This is exactly right, and I believe this is the exact reason they so very much want this technology on phones and in cars.

            Maybe they got the idea from TV, if you want to go there, but the idea being on TV doesn't automatically make it impossible.

            • You don't shut down cell phones at the end point, you shut them down at the top. The carrier can do a better job of killing off cell phone reception at any given point and time than any 'kill switch' on the phone. Shutting down the towers and the C&C infrastructure assures that YOU have control and that grandma's iPhone 3GS (sans kill switch) is off as well as your Cyanogen mod super-clean-built-up-from-the-ground malware free, Google free, Apple free FreePhone.

              It can already happen....

              • by BobMcD (601576)

                Imagine a secret raid about to be conducted on a property. One where they would rather you not call any of your buddies and warn them that you've been attacked. They can quietly shut down every phone in the building right before they throw in the flashbangs. They can do this on a phone-by-phone basis, and without involving the phone company since their rubberstamp FISA warrant has already given them complete access to the phone.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Apple's solution, which is non-intrusive and leaves you in control: you register all phones with iCloud. When you have Find my iPhone switched on, the phone can ONLY be registered to another account by entering the password of the original account. No matter how much you reset it. Also, you cannot switch off Find my iPhone. If you reinstall, you won't even notice (except the prompt says you have to register with this account), and if somebody else takes it over, it tells you to switch it off (forcing pas

    • More likely is that the switch will be used during the next "Arab spring" by some not so friendly governments.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      The NSA's "kill switch" is to take a NSL to your carrier and tell them to kill your service or the whole tower or region for that matter. And if you're really bringing out the big guns there's jammers and missiles, those towers light up like beacons. And whatever exploits they have for the carrier's systems. Besides, I suppose in some WWIII-prelude knocking out the enemy's communications systems and throwing them into disarray may be useful, but I imagine 99.99% of the time they're interested in signals in

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Whilst all this may be valid and true, how are we going to prevent the "wrong people" from using this kill switch? Will it be hardware based, in which case, how will we be sure it won't be triggered/used remotely if we install a different OS on the device? Or if some script kiddie found a way of activating it by exploiting an insecure app?

      Well, let's see how Apple does it.

      When you activate a phone, it gets associated with an Apple ID. That Apple ID is required to erase, restore, and recover a phone. But onl

      • by taikedz (2782065)

        Hm. I would say "there goes my preference for not associating my phone with an online account" but that would actually be incorrect. Though I would indeed prefer not to have to have an account to install apps.

        I guess I still treat my phone like a computer in many respects and I'm trying my darndest to keep it away from any form of remote kill at all for the sake of a "no remote please" blanket stance...

        Still, I'm pretty sure I prefer to be slightly on the neurotic side.

  • by jfengel (409917) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:14AM (#47272531) Homepage Journal

    Certainly it would be to your benefit to know if the device you're risking your freedom for is worth the effort. But I had thought that phone thefts were largely crimes of opportunity: you see the phone unguarded and you take it. I wouldn't think you have all that long to judge what kind of phone it is.

    I suppose maybe these are just professionals, good at their jobs, who have heard that the fences aren't taking some brands any more because it's not worth it. But I wonder if there's some other factor besides the kill switches that accounts for the data.

    • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:16AM (#47272549)

      This isn't to prevent theft of the phone. It's to protect theft of the information stored on the phone, which is generally far more valuable than the phone itself.

      • by Shakrai (717556)

        It's to protect theft of the information stored on the phone, which is generally far more valuable than the phone itself.

        You can already do that with encryption and PIN locks. My /data partition is encrypted, with a six word diceware password, and the phone is auto-locked with a five digit PIN after five minutes of idleness. Ten failed PIN attempts wipes the device. Powering off the device removes the encryption keys from memory. It's entirely possible (probable even) that a well resourced organization could extract the encryption keys from the phone but that's really not a pressing concern for most people. If it's a con

      • by Kjella (173770)

        No, the point of a kill switch is to destroy the resale value. Same as an IMEI ban, once reported stolen nobody should* give you service

        * not actually implemented worldwide, yet

        • FCC will step in and regulate if the carriers actually try to do this with all sales. I'm pretty sure there will always be a legitimate used phone market for the next 25 years or so probably. We've got enough people with their heads still screwed on straight to prevent this doomsday scenario.

      • by asylumx (881307)
        You may be right, but the summary & article both pretty strongly imply that the kill switch is reducing theft numbers for the device. I can't help but wonder if this is actually a result of there being more samsung phones in the wild now than before, and/or less iOS phones.
      • This isn't to prevent theft of the phone. It's to protect theft of the information stored on the phone, which is generally far more valuable than the phone itself.

        Close. Very close. The information on the phone might very well be valuable... but to who? Are you at a protest and taking pictures of an officer beating the shit out of an innocent bystander? That information is indeed valuable in the sense that the government (at all levels) wants to destroy it. This is not going to end well.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      People stopped using the original iPod/iPhone headsets (which are very recognizable) because of the risk of theft a couple years ago. Now, it's more of a safeguard.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fermion (181285)
      I would tend to agree. It may be that people are simply not using the iPhone. To show that the reduction in theft is caused by kill switch, one would have to show the rate of theft is not correlated to the rate of use, or to some other variable such as where of who the phones are used. For instance, if Android is used by younger or older population, it could be that the phones might just be left unprotected or easier to steal. Or if the Android phones are insured,it could be that people 'lose'. I know
      • by jfengel (409917)

        iPhones do have the advantage of being particularly distinctive. Android phones come in a stunning array of models and colors, but iPhones are rather restricted. If you're going to invest brain cells in "Don't take that phone" it would be easiest for it to be iPhones.

        If so, it sounds as if you'd need a fair bit of "herd immunity" to make other phones safe. Either that, or some highly distinctive branding, which is not the way Android manufacturers tend to work; they make their living offering everything to

  • With the data collected there is reasonable proof that failure to provide an "off" capability is actually a cause of incidents and just might mean that people who were injured might be entitled to relief from the manufacturer.
  • by LookIntoTheFuture (3480731) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @11:18AM (#47272571)
    Coming soon to Android and Windows devices: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tec... [telegraph.co.uk]
  • So much for peaceful demonstrations, and out Right to Assembly.

    BTW, are you wondering, why instead a national database of stolen phones is not created, so no stolen phone cannot be activated?

  • I added an IO device that overloads the battery so the phone explodes.

  • There goes the right of first sale.

    Perhaps my post title is wrong, and 'right of first sale' is actually the intended victim after all...

    Anyway, this makes my work for the pawn shop, unlocking devices people lost to hock, a bit more challenging.

    Of course, it would help if they'd stop taking in iPads without getting the iCloud password... damn college kids... /rant

  • by koan (80826)

    that a technological solution has the potential to end the victimization of wireless consumers everywhere

    Does that include the victimization the phone companies are doling out with their 2 year plans, termination fees, data caps and generally shitty service?

  • by dcw3 (649211)

    'These statistics validate what we always knew to be true, that a technological solution has the potential to end the victimization of wireless consumers everywhere,' said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon."

    Correlation? Probably.

    Causation? Possibly, but I'd argue that the ubiquitous nature of smart phones, and significant decrease in pricing has just as much, if not more to do with it.

  • If only the owner holds the key to kill a device, ( and can be given to a new owner.. ) then i'm ok with it as its my device, my control.

    If i dont get total control over its use, then leave it off my phone/tablet/etc.

  • If the user/owner controls the switch? Great. But if the carrier/government does? No.

    I'd love to have a kill-switch in my phone that, when receiving a code that only I have would result in a wipe and disabling of the device. That way if the government comes along and steals my property, I can do something about it. "Tampering with evidence?" No, that was a "malfunction" and we just lost the hard drives.

  • Doesn't Google already have this? The Android Device Manager lets you remotely locate, lock or find your device. Is there something more to this 'kill switch'? Does it permanently disable the phone?

  • Nothing more to say.

  • Well this is a truly disheartening decision -- not that I own a smartphone, but the "principal" behind the move is scary indeed. What's to prevent law enforcement from arbitrarily hitting the kill switch on political dissidents? What's to prevent a criminal from hitting the kill switch on prospective victims before they can call the police? What's to stop a telecomm provider from hitting the killswitch on delinquent accounts? This move by the government to mandating killswitch technology in cellphone
    • by mick129 (126225)
      > What's to prevent ... (the wrong person using a killswitch)?

      Well, on an iPhone, you have to log in using your Apple ID. So there's that.
      Find My iPhone: http://www.apple.com/ios/featu... [apple.com]

      As for the Google & Microsoft implementations that the story is discussing, you'll have to wait and see, I guess.

      > don't use them in sketchy places

      Another option is using an app that will automatically call 911 when needed:
      SafeTrek: https://itunes.apple.com/us/ap... [apple.com]

      > do you usually flaunt valuabl
      • by drfool (1535489)
        Apple IDs and passwords (especially weak ones) are not realistic defense measures against adversaries such as:
        Any government,
        Any organized crime outfit (think eastern Europe),
        Any well-sized telecom provider,
        Any well-funded police department

        The premise that my killswitch is safe because only I know the password is flawed. The existence of this type of feature alone is a security vulnerability in and of itself, and it is really unfortunate, because this vulnerability is actually by design.

        That's like
        • by mick129 (126225)
          Apple IDs can be set to require two-factor authentication. Microsoft and Google may implement their killswitches and authentication differently. We'll have to wait and see.

          You don't want a killswitch because you think the cost of an unauthorized use outweighs the benefit of an authorized use. Other people have other opinions. Many businesses, for example, require such features on devices they supply to their employees. So... perhaps your estimation of the likelihood of getting mis-used could be a lit
  • We are starting to hear stories about people who had their phones stolen in Scandinavia, getting calls from Eastern Europe where the new "owners" of the phone wants the password for iCloud so they can use the phone.
    Some have offered a small amount of money to get their password others have been angry with the rightful owner that they couldn't use their phone. Go figure.

  • if the drop in theft of one device and the rise in theft of a competing device both seem to hinge on the same event, then it does stand to reason that the event (the release of iOS7) is the reason... but why would we believe it is this specific feature? Given the security issues and complaints that accompanied iOS7 when it released, isn't there another reasonable explanation? Perhaps iOS devices became somewhat less popular and the Samsung devices filled that void? I'm just saying, there is a correlation
  • Having government institutions with control over something as private as a cell phone is not a good idea.

    This idea that government will make you safe, as long as you have no rights seems to be on the menu of the times we live in.

    It will end up serving the same ole dish:

    Death, misery and more chaos.

    Bye bye Human Race, was really nice knowing you, don't forget to write about it in the fossil record.

  • Here's the real Occum's Razor here:

    Does the "kill switch" remotely disable the mobile/cellular capabilities of the phone? Or does it completely disable the device, thus bricking it?

    These are smartphones, and they're used by many people for more than just a phone. I'd even argue that the function used the least on these devices, is the actual phone itself.

    I rarely see someone having an actual voice conversation on a phone these, days, but people spend hours and hours doing everything else with them.

    So if the

  • I'm talking Apple specific here but the number of iPhones openly advertised on eBay as "bad IMEI" is beyond a joke. That fact alone and that eBay does nothing to curb this practice tells you something right there. Combine that with the fact that these "bad IMEI" phones still command a very high price, almost as high as a "clean" phone shows that the market in stolen phones is still very much alive. Despite Apples' best efforts at implementing this kill switch, the second hand iPhone market has now become a
  • Similar to Kill Switches,Microsoft is expereincing a whole new phase of innovations all around which is evident from the facts brought in light by NICK PARKER(Corporate Vice President) during his adress at COMPUTEX...for more info go to http://www.ciol.com/ [ciol.com]

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