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‘Threat’ Category

The “kill switch” technology that can remotely disable a stolen smartphone will soon be standard by the summer of 2015.

lockedphone_artA new initiative announced this week by the wireless trade group CTIA has the backing of phone manufacturers Apple, Google, Samsung, Microsoft and others, and wireless carriers including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Under the terms of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment, smartphones manufactured after July 2015 for sale in the United States will have the technology to render the phone inoperable if it is stolen, remotely wipe out all data, and prevent reactivation without the authorized user’s permission.

The technology would also allow the reversal of the smartphone’s inoperability and retrieval of data if it is recovered by the authorized user.

The technology will be offered at no cost to consumers.

As we have posted before, theft is a serious problem confronting owners of mobile devices. In major cities like New York and San Francisco, smartphone theft accounts for half of all robberies.

It is estimated that it costs consumers about $580 million a year to replace stolen smartphones and about $4.8 billion a year in premiums to insure the handsets. The idea is for the disabling technology to be an effective deterrent by making the smartphones worthless to thieves.

The pledge marks a reversal by wireless carriers, which had resisted pressure from state lawmakers to make the kill-switch technology mandatory.

California legislators earlier this year introduced a bill requiring the technology to be installed in smartphones, and Minnesota’s legislature is poised to adopt a similar bill. Federal lawmakers proposed legislation in the House as well.

The CTIA had also originally opposed making the technology mandatory, citing potential hacking and privacy risks that could affected entire groups of smartphone customers.

Says Steve Largent, president and CEO of the CTIA:

“We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen. … At the same time, it’s important different technologies are available so that a ‘trap door’ isn’t created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals. By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users’ personal information on smartphones.”



Technology that can render a stolen smartphone worthless to thieves could save consumers $2.6 billion a year in product replacement and insurance premiums if it significantly reduces thefts of the devices, a new report says.

lockedphone_artThe study by Creighton University researcher William Duckworth is the latest argument for the installation of so-called “kill switch” technology in smartphones. California became the first state in the nation to propose making the disabling technology mandatory on the devices when state legislators proposed a bill in February. Federal lawmakers are also considering legislation in Washington.

Wireless carriers have mostly resisted these requests, and the wireless trade group CTIA has come out in opposition, citing potential hacking and privacy risks that could affect entire groups of smartphone customers.

Duckworth, an assistant professor of statistics, data science and analytics at Creighton, surveyed 1,200 smartphone owners in February using ResearchNow and reviewed the average cost of the devices and insurance as part of his study.

Duckworth estimated that it costs consumers about $580 million a year to replace stolen smartphones and another $4.8 billion annually to insure premium handsets like the iPhone. Duckworth summarizes in his report:

“A stolen smartphone – such as the iPhone 5S – could sell for $800 or more in the United States and overseas. For criminals, a stolen phone could be worth more than a stolen wallet, a tablet, or even a laptop.”

The professor said his research showed that if the kill switch technology proves an effective deterrent by rendering stolen smartphones useless, leaving no incentive for thieves to steal them, most of the $580 million spent by users to replace the devices would be saved.

Another $2 billion a year would be saved by customers who switch to cheaper insurance coverage for their devices. Duckworth says at least half of smartphone users would do this if the disabling technology reduced the theft threat.

Says Duckworth:

“Overall, it seems clear that Americans want the Kill Switch and that an industry-wide implementation of the technology could significantly improve public safety and save consumers billions of dollars a year.”

Duckworth’s survey also found that:

  • 99 percent of smartphone owners believe wireless carries should allow consumers the option to disable the device if it is stolen
  • 93 percent believe owners should not be expected to pay extra for the ability to disable a stolen phone
  • 83 percent believe a kill switch would reduce smartphone theft.

The installation of a “kill switch” in mobile devices to deter theft, first proposed by California legislators, now has the attention of federal lawmakers.

lockedphone_artFour U.S. senators introduced legislation to require carriers to install a security feature on smartphones that would remotely and permanently disable the devices if stolen. The legislation follows California’s first-in-the-nation bid to make the so-called “kill switch” mandatory on all mobile devices, including tablets.

Theft is a serious problem confronting owners of mobile devices. In major cities like New York and San Francisco, smartphone theft accounts for half of all robberies. There’s even an informal and diabolical name for it: “Apple picking.” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, one of the bill’s sponsors, estimates the cost of these thefts to consumers is more than $30 billion a year.

The idea is for the disabling technology to be an effective deterrent by making the smartphones worthless to thieves.

But not everyone is on board. The wireless trade group CTIA has come out against the federal legislation in a position paper, citing potential hacking and privacy risks that could affect entire groups of smartphone customers. A lost smartphone reported stolen could cost the consumer hundreds of dollars to replace it, the CTIA says. The group does support criminal penalties for tampering with a smartphone.

“There is a far better way to do this, but it would actually require that criminals are captured, smartphones are returned to the owners, and justice is served,’s John Dvorak writes in panning the federal legislation. “It also means providers and police have to do more than sit around hitting a kill switch and having a doughnut.”

This recent CNET article goes into depth about the security devices already employed in most smartphones, and what the wireless industry is doing — and not doing — to deter thieves.




California legislators are proposing a law that would be the first in the nation to require that all smartphones and tablets sold in the state have disabling technology installed that would render the smartphone or tablet inoperable if stolen.

As we said in a recent post, the proposed “kill switch” law could catch on nationwide as thefts of mobile devices continue to be a serious and dangerous issue. If passed, the law could go into effect as early as New Year’s Day.

tablets_artUntil then — or if you live somewhere other than California — here are a few low-tech ways to safeguard your mobile device from theft:

Don’t leave your device unattended. It only takes a moment for a thief to walk off with your $600 iPad or $400 smartphone when you’re at the coffee shop counter. Don’t leave it alone in public places.

Be aware of your surroundings. Avoid using it in areas that appear unsafe. Be wary of people who act suspiciously, and keep both hands on the device when using it in public.

Install a tracking app. This comes in handy in case someone does swipe your mobile device or takes it by force. Both Android smartphones and iPhones offer free tracking apps. You can log in to another device like a laptop or tablet to locate your missing device. Get help from law enforcement; don’t go after it yourself.

Use the protection features installed on your device. Whether it is fingerprint technology, retinal displays or a password, use these features to render the phone or tablet or iPad useless to thieves.

Treat the device like your wallet. You make sure your wallet containing your cash, ATM card, personal photos and other sensitive items is secure from pickpockets. Your smartphone or tablet has sensitive data, passwords, mobile banking information, all of which can be a big payoff for thieves. Treat your mobile device like you would your wallet.

blurred charging stationCharging stations are popping up all over the place, and there’s no doubt that they’re convenient. But are they safe?

We’re all connected to our phones and use them as an integral part of our everyday lives. But have we been so eager to keep our devices charged that we overlooked some basic safety concerns?

Every time we plug our phone into a USB at a charging station, we may be exposing our data to being stolen and downloaded. Think about all the important, sensitive data stored in your phone.

If we weren’t so hungry for a quick charge, and blinded by the fear of our devices dying, would this have raised red flags to us?

This article raises some really great points about potential security threats we may be exposing ourselves to by plugging our phones into these charging stations.