Last September, Apple introduced a kill switch in its software update, officially known as the “activation lock”, allowing users to remotely wipe their iPhones if it’s lost or stolen. The activation lock requires the owner’s name and password to reactivate the phone and remains encrypted and unable to use unless that information is entered. Since the implementation of this feature, thefts have dropped dramatically. Specifically, iPhone thefts in London fell by 24% in the first five months of 2014 compared to 2013, in San Francisco they fell by 38%, and in New York by 19%, according to data collected by the IDG news service.
Google and Microsoft are now working on similar implementations for their future software to deter thieves from stealing and reselling wiped smartphones. They are working with the The New York Attorney General and have signed agreements to add “kill switches” to Android and Windows Phone devices. This comes as part of the “Secure our Smartphones” initiative, where the report stresses the importance of kill switch safeguards for smartphone platforms in order to keep the user data safe. With these “kill switches”, if your phone is stolen, you’ll be able to make your phone useless from a remote location.
Smartphone theft has become a big problem across the world. According to a Consumer Report:
- Some 3.1 million mobile devices were stolen in the US in 2013, nearly double the number of devices stolen in 2012
- One in three Europeans experienced the theft or loss of a mobile device in 2013
- In South Korea mobile device theft increased five-fold between 2009 and 2012
- In Colombia criminals stole over one million devices in 2013
According to a recent blog by Microsoft, they will introduce their version of a kill-switch by July 2015. Fred Humpfries, VP of U.S. Government Affairs at Microsoft, says:
Effective theft deterrence requires a multi-pronged strategy that involves law enforcement efforts, consumer education, use of stolen phone databases and new technology features. We’ve been focused for some time on helping to protect our customers and their phones. Windows Phone, and before that Windows Mobile, have included a free service provided by the Find My Phone feature, which allows the owner to remotely find, ring, lock or erase their phone from the Web. Lock and Erase help keep user data from prying eyes while Find and Ring help users locate a lost phone.
While iPhone thefts have significantly dropped, thieves still roam the streets and are focusing their efforts elsewhere. According to IDG, in 2013 Samsung thefts rose by more than 40% in New York. Samsung responded to the alarming theft rates and introduced a Reactivation Lock in April. According to Samsung, when this feature is enabled, it activates a special flag set in a secured memory storage area of the device. When active, this flag cannot be disabled by performing a factory reset or Android recover reset.
Apple data suggests that about 89% of iPhones and iPads are now using iOS 7. However, according to Google’s own data, 13.6% of users are on the latest “KitKat” version, released in October 2013; by contrast 58.4% are on versions released between July 2012 and July 2013, and another 28% on versions dating back as far as May 2010. Android users will have to upgrade to the latest version to access the upcoming feature.
In August 2013, Google released the Android Device Manager app to help Android owners locate and wipe lost phones. However, this is an optional app and not built into the operating system, and it does not lock the phone against future use. However, Google will add a “factory reset protection solution” to its next Android system, the company said in statement last Friday.
According to a report by the New York Attorney General,
An activated kill switch converts an easy-to-sell, high-value multimedia device into a jumble of plastic and glass, drastically reducing its street value.