Sunday, November 24, 2013

US carriers say no to Samsung's kill switch

Mobile providers in the United States have completely rejected Samsung's idea and proposal to load all smartphones sold in this country with theft deterrent software.

Samsung's idea was to pre-load all of their phones with Lojack for Android, which would completely eliminate their value in the secondary market in case of theft if it were made standard on all devices.

"We are evaluating what course of action will be necessary to pressure the wireless industry to prioritize the safety of their customers," said San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon.

Carriers do not approve

CTIA-The Wireless Association in June outlined its opposition to kill switches in a report to the Federal Communications Commission.

The idea is that once installed, the kill switch would brick a mobile device and make it impossible to be reactivated or used in any way. More so, hackers could actually make spoof kill commands and take out large groups of phones at a time. That would mean that they could even target groups like the Department of Defense or any law enforcement group.

The installation of a kill switch on a mobile device could also increase the risk of denial of service attacks and make it way easier to discover the kill command.

But, Apple's iOS7 operating system has a kill switch, the Activation Lock, which has drawn in strong support from law enforcement.

A flaw in Siri lets users bypass the lock screen.

Apple can get away with this because they control the OS and the device, and because carriers pretty much know how important the iPhone is to have in their lineup, no matter what.

The Wireless Industry's Defense

"CTIA and its member companies worked hard over the last year to help law enforcement with its stolen phone problem," says Jamie Hastings, the organization's vice president.

These efforts include the creation of an integrated database designed to keep stolen phones from being reactivated, which is scheduled for release on the 30th of this month.

But the database only works for 4G/LTE devices.

"The database is a smoke screen," Gascón growled. "A similar database in the UK was not effective, and since it was implemented last year, the number of smartphone thefts has only gone up."

It does not any lost or stolen smartphones that end up being shipped to other countries.

However, "as more countries and more carriers around the world participate in the database, criminals will have fewer outlets for their stolen devices," Hastings made sure to point out.

The CTIA also offers apps that you can download to remotely erase and track a stolen device. These can be found here.

Samsung Keeps Pushing

Samsung says that they take the issue of stolen smartphones very seriously. They say that they are going to continue to work with their wireless carrier partners to get to their common goal of stopping the theft of smartphones.

Apparently, emails between a Samsung executive and a software developer have indicated the carriers were concerned that the kill switch would cut into their profits from insurance that they sell in order to cover lost or stolen smartphones.

But then again, would carriers offer accessories like cases and scratch protectors if they were so worried about the 5 to 10 dollars per month for insurance?

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