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Microsoft and Google Bow to Kill Switches

by on19 June 2014 1616 times

It seems that Microsoft and Google have caved to government demands for “Kill Switches” in their phones. For those of you that might wonder what a Kill Switch is, it is an embedded mechanism that can render a phone inoperable from a remote location. Through the use of simple commands you can shut down the ability to make calls, receive data etc. and in some cases these switches would automatically turn on location features to allow the phones to be tracked.

Many law makers have pushed for these on the ground that they will somehow magically reduce phone theft and are even citing new “reports” that claim to show that they do. This is despite the fact that other measures like this for vehicles (Low Jack, OnStar) have not made a significant impact in theft. Still they continue to push for this to be a required feature as if it will save the world.

In most cases the law makers pushing for this actually believe it will help. Sadly they are unaware of the consequences of putting something like this inside of a communication device. They are also ignoring how easily this type of system can be abused or even hijacked. To see this all they would have to do is ask the Satellite companies how often they have had to replace legitimate customer’s cards or boxes when they performed their sweeps looking for pirated cards and emulator boxes.

Having worked as a contracted forensic data specialist for one of the leading satellite providers I know that this was a common problem and their fight against the pirates was a long and costly one. I also can remember having my own card(s) replaced on multiple occasion during big cable events simply because I got accidentally caught up in a sweep.

When you have a remote system like this accidents are going to happen and someone will end up with a dead phone. Now you can live for a while without access to TV, but what happens when a phone is killed in a more precarious situation? These switches will require that the phone be brought in to have them reset. There is no remote reset available in the way they are currently imagined. With the current state of corporate security it will not be long before someone hacks the system and kills a few hundred (or thousand) phones.

Sadly, although their intentions might be good, their ignorance of the technology involved combined with the poor state of security at the big phone carriers makes this nothing more than a recipe for disaster. Microsoft and Google should not be buying into this at all and should push back on any requirement for this type of system to be put in place. In the end, it will not significantly reduce phone theft. It will only open up new doors for some very disruptive attacks on consumer communications.

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Last modified on 19 June 2014
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