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Microsoft and Google to Add Kill Switch to Smartphones

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Both Microsoft and Google have agreed to add a so called Kill Switch to future versions of their smartphone OS to help reduce the utility of stolen handsets.

There has been pressure from US authorities to add some sort of remote deactivation function to handsets, although there have also been concerns about how to make such a feature strong enough to make it irreversible by a thief, yet not too easy to use maliciously

A kill switch would let an owner remotely disable the handset in such a way as to render it essentially useless. However, as that action shouldn't be reversible, it has to be designed to be secure from being triggered by hackers.

In theory, a hacker could systematically disable smartphones at will -- leading to a smartphone famine in cities as people rush to retailers to buy emergency replacement handsets.

"The commitments of Google and Microsoft are giant steps toward consumer safety and the statistics released today illustrate the stunning effectiveness of kill switches," said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who drove a publicity campaign in the USA on the issue.

Apple already has a kill switch in its newer iPhones.

In New York City, theft of iPhones fell significantly after the release of Apple's Activation Lock in September 2013. In the first five months of 2014, robberies and grand larcenies involving Apple products dropped 19% and 29%, respectively, compared to the same time period from 2013. The decrease in Apple thefts far surpassed the citywide decrease in all robberies (-10%) and all grand larcenies (-18%). Perhaps most tellingly, robberies and grand larcenies from a person involving a Samsung smartphone, which did not have a kill switch during much of this time, increased by over 40%.

Samsung introduced a kill switch solution in April of 2014 on their Verizon Wireless devices.

Statistics from San Francisco and London show similar outcomes. In San Francisco, iPhone robberies declined 38% while robberies of Samsung devices increased by 12%. In London, Apple thefts declined by 24% while Samsung thefts increased by 3%.

The New York Attorney General said that the next step though is to make the kill-switch a feature that is automatically activated on new handsets. At the moment, the supporting Samsung and Apple phones that have it, require the user to activate it.


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Tags: USA