US law enforcers suggest a kill switch for mobile and Apple adapts

By Pierluigi Paganini, Editor-in-Chief, CDM

Jun 24, 2013, 11:30 am EST

The idea of US law enforcers is the realization of a kill switch on mobile devices that would be used in case of theft. New York’s top prosecutor, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón promoted an initiative, dubbed Secure Our Smartphones (SOS), with purpose to shutdown secondary market on devices.

The initiative is sustained by law enforcers, state attorneys general, police chiefs, district attorneys, major city, activists and consumer advocates.

The figure of the parallel market for stolen devices are impressive, Schneiderman reported that nearly 113 Smartphones are stolen or lost every minute in the US, but what is concerning is that many of the thefts turning violent.

The overall crime rate in New York city increased 3% last year — but “if you subtracted just the increase in Apple product thefts, we would have had an overall decrease in crime in New York,” Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said.


Following the introduction made by SOS board:

In 2012, 1.6 million Americans were victimized for their smartphones. This is a growing epidemic affecting all corners of our nation and accounting for a majority of the robberies in our cities. Last year, 50 percent of the robberies in San Francisco involved a stolen mobile communication device.

Washington D.C Police reports Smartphone theft accounting for 38 percent of their robberies, with Philadelphia Police reporting this type of theft accounting for 33 percent of all robberies.  In New York City, 20 percent of all robberies involved the theft of a smartphone; a 40 percent increase in the past year. These crimes have led to severe injuries and the loss of life. The trend indicates that the problem will only get worse if manufacturers and carriers do not take immediate action.

The principal points of the initiative are:

  • Analyzing patterns, causes and trends behind device theft;
  • Investigating the capability of manufacturers to develop technology that would deter theft, including a kill switch that would brick stolen devices permanently, eliminating the economic incentives for would-be thieves;
  • Understanding how the economics of device theft have affected decision-making by the Smartphone industry;
  • Working with device manufacturers to make a kill switch, or equally effective deterrent technology, a standard feature of their products; and
  • Investigating impropriety on the part of manufacturers, raising public and shareholder awareness about industry practices in this area, and using all available tools to press for safety-oriented innovation and responsible corporate citizenship.

The fourth point in particular focus on will to create a kill switch for mobile, just after the request of the SOS initiative Apple revealed that next release of its mobile operating system, iOS 7, include the function “activation lock“ that can make a stole Apple devices (iPhone or iPad) unusable permanently.

The function will improve the feature already available known as “Find My iPhone” that allows mobile tracking. The company added the same ID and password will be needed to reactivate a device after it’s been remotely erased.

“We think this is going to be a really powerful theft deterrent,” said Craig Federighi, a senior vice president at Apple.

The main problem is that thief, and criminal organization behind him, could be able to change the handset’s International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, the unique 15 digit code assigned at production to each device, making impossible device tracking.

A further initiative  to improve security for mobile users is the creation of a database for stolen devices,  phones and tablet included in this archive could not be activated and would not work on an LTE network in the United States.

A kill switch could improve protection for mobile devices, but let’s wait the reply of the cybercriminal industry that for sure will reply proposing new illegal countermeasures, anyway the SOS initiative is a step forward in the right direction.

(Source: CDM & Security Affairs – Kill switch, mobile)

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