Smartphone Manufacturers And US Operators Agree To Anti-Theft ‘Kill-Switch’

smartphone choice platform © Adam RadosavljevicShutterstock

US operators relent and agree to basic anti-theft kill-switch for smartphones sold in the country

Manufacturers and operators in the US have agreed to include a “baseline anti-theft tool” or kill switch into smartphones sold in the country in an effort to deter would-be thieves from stealing mobile devices.

The ‘Smartphone anti-theft voluntary commitment’, penned by CTIA, the association which represents US carriers, is set to appease American politicians, who have long called for such a measure to help protect users if a handset is lost or stolen.

The commitment states that a free preloaded or downloadable tool must be made available to smartphones intended for sale in the US, and is able to remotely wipe data if a device is lost or stolen and renders it inoperable to anyone but an unauthorised user.

Kill Switch Engage

Blackberry hammer smartphone break © Ethan boisvert ShutterstockThe tool should also prevent reactivation without permission, including unauthorised factory reset attempts, to the extent of what is technologically possible, but ensure that if the smartphone is recovered, users can regain access and be able to restore wiped data, possibly via the cloud.

Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Microsoft, Motorola Nokia and Samsung have all signed up, as have US networks AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon. The support of the operators is crucial as they have previously blocked attempts by manufacturers to introduce a kill-switch over fears that it could leave individuals open to attack.

It has been suggested by a number of US politicians that the operators have been resisting such a move because they want to continue charging their customers “billions” in in insurance payments.

However the CTIA and US operators have now given in, with the organisation promising that the “safety and security of wireless users remain the wireless industry’s top priority.”

“This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain,” says Steve Largent, President and CEO of the CTIA. “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.”

Coming to the UK?

It is claimed that one in three robberies in the US involves the theft of a smartphone, with lost or stolen devices costing US consumers $30 billion each year, while it is believed 10,000 mobile phones a month are stolen in London.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has contacted his counterparts in New York and San Francisco and has written to the UK heads of Apple, BlackBerry, Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Microsoft and Sony demanding they work together to create an anti-theft system.

It is unclear whether the anti-theft tools that will be offered in the US will be made available to UK mobile users.

The UK government has made a number of attempts to control the rise of mobile phone thefts, but these have so far failed to reduce the incident numbers. Recycling firms have agreed to a code of practice designed to prevent criminals from selling them stolen mobile phones, while police are able to identify stolen handsets using the National Mobile Phone Register (NMPR).

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