Friday, 14 June 2013 14:35

Ok, So How Does a Kill Switch Stop Cell Phone Theft?

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There is an interesting movement going on right now that has both good and bad consequences if it is brought to life. We are talking about the push by some law makers to put “kill switches” into cellphones. The thought behind this is that a would-be thief might think twice if he knew that a phone could be turned off rapidly just like a credit card. The Movement is called “Secure our Smartphones” and while they appear to have their hearts in the right place, there is something not quite right in what they are proposing. Sadly whenever we see such a big push to disable or control products and devices there comes with it a concern about abuse.

SOS is pointing to the rising trend of phone theft where it is allegedly easy to steal a phone wipe it and then resell it for someone else to use. They want that magic kill switch to turn the phone into a brick so that it would need to be returned to the manufacturer to be used again. As we said above, the logic seems sound and the goal is certainly laudable as there has been an increase in violence when it comes to phone theft. The problem is that it is also possible to unbrick a phone if you know what you are doing. This means that the devices will still have value to the right people, who will resell them… well they would if it were not for the pesky fact that every phone has an ESN (Electronic Serial Number), MAC Address and more for the phone company to identify it by.  If you took a phone and tried to add it to a plan they would know that it was stolen almost at once. This means that to push these phones out to the market they have to be reprogramed at their core level to overwrite the ESN. As you might have guessed the same people that can do this would also be more than capable of unbricking that same phone.

So why are they pushing so hard for a kill switch? Part of the reason is that they do not understand the technology involved or the processes that are already in place to correct the issue of stolen phones. They even claim that jailbreaking a phone somehow changes the ESN and prevents them from being tracked… They feel that a kill switch is the only way stop theft by deterrent, and point to the “ease” that you can shut down a credit card if stolen. If you have ever tried to do that yourself you know that it is not easy to shut off a credit card if stolen and that in the time it takes you to do so a thief can run up a pretty impressive bill. Thieves know they have a limited window to run up charges and often do so in the first couple of hours. The same can be said for cellphones. They are not going to stop stealing them because of a kill switch. The way the market works will just change slightly to accommodate. This means that just like DRM the only people that will end up getting hurt are the average customer.

When someone pushes for a single system like this it sounds an awful lot like the measures that the MPAA, RIAA and others want for their piracy controls. They also obscure facts and while pushing for very controlling systems. This is what we are seeing with this request. There are already considerable options to track and prevent the re-registration of phones so that means that a Kill Switch only serves the purpose of permanently disabling a means of communication. This might sound far-fetched and bring visions of people with tin foil on their head, but we do know that law enforcement has shut down cellular communication during protests in the US. The problem with doing that is that it takes out everyone so no one can talk not even law enforcement. Having a nice little trick like a kill switch disables the phones permanently removing the ability to communicate completely. Looking at this tactically communications is one of the priorities on the list for disrupting the enemy before any attack.

Although we are not sure this is the end state for this request we do find it very unusual that the group is not working on other less destructive methods of prevention and that they are trying so hard to get this single items introduced into every phone and accessible by the police as well.

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Read 949 times Last modified on Friday, 14 June 2013 14:40