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New Kill Switches Will Ensure Smartphone Security

New Kill Switches Will Ensure Smartphone Security

Device Manufacturers Agree to Include a Kill Switch to Combat Rising Smartphone Theft

May 15, 2014

Last month, The Wireless Association (CTIA) began a new initiative, requiring voluntary commitment from major device manufacturers and network operators to offer the kill option on smartphones manufactured after July 2015.

Expected to sign the statement are manufacturers Apple and Samsung, as well as all four major U.S. phone networks (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon).*

Ever since smartphones recently surged in popularity in the global device market, their prevalence has set the stage for improved mobile networks across the U.S., as well as improved LTE around the world.

The possibilities seem endless, but as with every innovative technology, the industry must overcome new obstacles to achieve ideal usage. When it comes to smartphones, device security is one of the biggest issues to solve – both in the case of enterprise BYOD information security, as well as responding to the growing issue of smartphone theft.


The Hotly-Debated “Kill Switch” Solution

Last year, in the wake of rising smartphone theft and subsequent violence associated with these crimes†, CTIA worked in conjunction with policymakers, law enforcement programs and under the watchful eye of the FCC to officially release what it called “a proactive, multifaceted approach to dry up the aftermarket for stolen phones.”

This included the implementation of a revolutionary smartphone database, as well as efforts to educate the general public. And until recently, major U.S. wireless carriers had supported this endeavor.


A Legislative Push Sparks Momentum

New Kill Switches Will Ensure Smartphone SecurityLast month, however, CTIA’s new initiative came into the limelight, touting a “kill switch” that would allow users to remotely wipe data from smartphones, rendering a phone useless if stolen.

It’s an option that the industry has resisted in the past, due to dangers such as the possibility of hackers taking advantage of the feature to remotely wipe devices.

So what changed the industry’s mind?

Last week, the “Smartphone Theft Prevention Act” was passed in Congress. Backed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, two main proponents of the “Secure Our Smartphones” initiative†, this bill ensures that the kill switch will become a requirement for any phone manufactured in the U.S. or imported into the country by 2015.

In addition, there were some nearly insurmountable problems with CTIA’s alternative solutions to the kill switch. For instance, all carriers around the world would have to participate in order for its global smartphone database idea to work. Otherwise, thieves will continue to ship stolen devices to other countries and sell them there.


A Few More Obstacles for Kill Switch Practices

Now that the initial phase of the debate has come to an end, industry leaders must make big decisions. For instance, it must be decided what is turned on automatically and what users will activate manually.

While CTIA’s commitment mentions a preloaded or downloadable feature for smartphones, for some this still isn’t enough. Schneiderman and Gascón “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.”*

And still others have begun to take the kill switch idea into their own hands.


Minnesota’s Kill Switch Law

On Wednesday, Minnesota enacted the nation’s first law requiring smartphones and tablets sold in the state to have remote shut-off feature as a way to deter theft.

Parts of the state bill prohibit retailers from paying cash for used devices, requiring them to document transaction records and device information. In addition, sellers must present identification and provide assurance that the phone is not stolen. In place of cash, sellers would receive a mailed check, electronic transfer or store credit.

Although CTIA condemns this legislation as “unnecessary in light of steps the industry has taken,” Minnesota lawmakers hope that this law will protect users from becoming the victims of property loss and, more importantly, violent crime.


* Brustein, Joshua. Next Debate on Phones’ Kill Switches: Who Turns Them On?, Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg L.P.
† Kelly, Heather. The battle over a smartphone kill switch, CNN Tech. Cable News Network, Turner Broadcasting System.
‡ The Associated Press. Mandatory Smartphone ‘Kill Switch’ Becomes Law in Minnesota, NBC News. NBC.

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