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back to article Proposed California law demands anti-theft 'kill switch' in all smartphones

California may soon become the first US state to require mobile phone makers to include a feature that can remotely disable their handsets in the event they are stolen. A new law proposed by California state Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón would require all smartphones sold in the state to …

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If this is going to be regulated...

Wouldn't it be better just to mandate an operator blacklist of IMEI numbers for stolen devices rather than being OS-dependent? This doesn't prevent selling to other jurisdictions, I'm aware, but if such a blacklist were maintained nationally, that would stop a lot of motivation.

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Mushroom

Re: If this is going to be regulated...

Alternatively, use the Israeli method, a little bit of strategic C4 + remote detonation.... Garaunteed that the thief will never steal another anything....

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Re: If this is going to be regulated...

Indeed... That would make sense, and only be what everyone else did years ago.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If this is going to be regulated...

Kill switch, maybe to be used against the person using in the seat next to me?

Why did they ever allow it to be used on aircraft.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If this is going to be regulated...

Just download an App on you Android phone and you have a 25% chance of bricking it with malware.

As for Apple, they just switch you off if you p@ss them off.

Blackberry? Server mishap, but who has one anyway.

Win Phone? Deserves to be stolen.

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Re: If this is going to be regulated...

It doesn't stop motivation. The UK has a fairly high phone theft rate, and we have an IMEI blocking system in place. The phones just get shipped overseas.

The phones need bricking if stolen.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If this is going to be regulated...

"Why did they ever allow it to be used on aircraft."

CAN''T YOU WAIT THE 5 MINS UNTIL WE GET INTO THE TERMINAL? YOU SELF-CENTRED, EGOTISTICAL ASSHAT!

*punch*

No court would convict me.

Me: "Yer honour, they were standing using the phone on a plane whilst the 'Fasten Seatbelt' sign was still on, and they never paid attention to the safety briefing."

Everyone else from the plane: "We agree with that statement."

Judge: "Very well, case dismissed. And I sentence the plaintive to have 'I'm a twat' tattooed on their forehead."

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FAIL

Re: If this is going to be regulated...

>"Win Phone? Deserves to be stolen"

You're saying its more deserving to be stolen than iPhones and Android devices, i.e. it's more appealing? You can't even construct a proper troll, can you?

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Pint

Re: If this is going to be regulated... @h4rm0ny

Priceless! Thanks for bringing a smile to my face :-)

Have a festive tipple on me (it doesn't have to beer) ---------->

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Boffin

Re: If this is going to be regulated...

This is already the case, however, the crooks flash a new IMEI onto the device ... you are 15 years too late, mate. And, this only works per country ... and stupid crooks sell them in Africa ... The fun starts when the new owner comes back with the hw and the IMEI has not been flashed.

What we need is an international blacklist, but since they can flash the IMEI, it is useless against the savvy.

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Re: Why did they ever allow it to be used on aircraf

I'll tell you why it should be allowed. Flight 93.

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Re: If this is going to be regulated...

Of course, you are 100% correct.

But, the kill switch isn't really meant against theft, that is just a pretense. The hijacked U.S. government simply wants to be able to shut down your phone whenever it suits them.

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So now the thief has to disable me

...at least long enough to preserve the resale value of my phone until it's fenced?

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I cannot see how such a "kill switch" could ever be abused by a socialist/dictator president. No sir.

/this is seriously a bad idea, 1984.

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Black Helicopters

You're now on that 'special' list.

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Big Brother

@Bullseyed

"abused by a socialist/dictator president"?

Because no right-wing capitalist dictator president would dream of abusing such a kill switch?

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Right-wing quasi-military nutjobs posing as socialist dictators would be far more likely to abuse this, if they had a reason to. That's the great thing about being a dictator you know, you don't need to abuse software when you can just abuse the peolple who run the networks. It's not only easier that way, but it adds to the aura of strength/lunacy that dictators like to maintain.

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WTF?

What happened last time?

I seem to remember that this was going to happen years ago, report the phone stolen and 'they' kill it.

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DO NOT WANT

I do not want a self destruct switch in my phone!

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Re: DO NOT WANT

Why not? Unless you've built your own network your phone works by the will of the carrier, who operates at the will of pretty much anybody, apparently. So you're not putting your connectivity at risk, and you're possibly less likely to robbed for your phone. Not really seeing the problem.

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Re: DO NOT WANT

Well it depends on how it works I suppose. If it's no different than being blocked by the carrier than

A) Meh, OK I guess. and

B) WTF is the point?

But if the phone will be banned form all networks and/or have other functionality disabled, than I absolutely do no want this.

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Re: DO NOT WANT

What about your credit cards? What about your bank accounts in general? Both of those things have kill switch functionality that's 100% out of your control.

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Don't they blacklist the IMEI over in America like they do here in the UK?

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IMEI blacklisting was a lot more useful when phones were mostly telephones and needed a network to do anything useful. Now they're mostly touchscreen pocket computers that happen to be able to make a telephone call blocking them from the network doesn't make them as useless as it used to - they're still effectively mini tablets, which is probably enough to have some resale value.

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This is quite true, and I hadn't considered that earlier. That said, it still puts the onus on whoever buys the device. They'll just about have to know it's stolen so they shouldn't ever try using it as a phone.

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Mushroom

http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=flash+imei

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Stop

Sounds like a great idea...

Until some malicious tool finds a way to access the kill switch and phones start getting bricked for various faux-humorous or greedy purposes.

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Re: Sounds like a great idea...

"Until some malicious tool finds a way to... “

"Please send X bitcoins to Y or 'your precious' becomes 'your doorstop'. "

Oh yes, people would pay-up.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sounds like a great idea...

I would think you could possibly do that already, depending on the phone.

Use a temproot exploit, then wipe out the boot partition or some other significant piece.

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Political sponsorship at its worst?

Protectionist idiots and maybe NSA sponsored.

The disguise is now wearing far too thin.

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@ Alan Denman

What a stupid comment. What's far too thin is your understanding of the world.

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Re: @ Alan Denman

Would you care to explain what exactly is wrong with Alan Denman's comment, Senator Leno or District Attorney Gascón, whichever one you are?

This is a state mandated addition to the assumption that stuff that a person has bought doesn't actually belong to them at all. No choice is given as to whether this pointless thing will be on the phone or not. Can you think of any other consumer good that has government-mandated anti-theft measures? Even cars don't have them!

By all means, let people have the choice, but ask insurance companies to charge less if there is a certain level of security on the phone, or even run a public information campaign, but this is a dangerous thing to compulsorily add to a device.

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Re: @ Alan Denman

It's stupid because State actors don't need this kind of thing to interfere with your phone. Even if the NSA hadn't gone completely insane, killing mobile, or home, phones is an authorized law enforcement practice that's been challenged many times in court and never been overruled. They've got far easier ways of shutting you down.

I'm not sure what you think all those numbers on your car are for, but verification of ownership is their primary purpose. Auto makers didn't even include vehicle specific info in the VIN until the 50's. That title thing you've got for your cars? All are anti-theft mechanisms and most nicer cars come with remote disablement features as a standard option. Granted, those systems aren't government mandated, but law enforcement has access to them if they want it.

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Can you think of any other consumer good Re: @ Alan Denman

Can you think of any other consumer good that is light weight, palm sized, and that may well -- in all likelihood -- holds the keys to your identity and economic life?

Remind me, if my phone is lost or stolen, why am I not supposed to want to be able to call my carrier and have them brick the thing? I call my credit card company to void lost cards. In terms of functional desirability, how does this differ? Because it would be a guvmint mandate? Right. It's almost 2014, your 20th century talking points are past their expiration date.

The ability to brick a phone that is not within arm's distance would be a feature and selling point, which pretty much does away with any objections based on profits that isn't rooted in (as the article says) more thefts = more sales. Nice. Almost Googlerian in its cold logic.

As for "their" ability to do this, this isn't my area of expertise, but it seems to me if they're able to download to your phone at their leisure, without your knowledge or direct consent at the time, it should be easy enough for them to locate and zap your phone of all value once you give them your mother's maiden name.

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Re: Can you think of any other consumer good @ Alan Denman

Yes, my WALLET. And since it's UNpowered, there's sod all that can be done to "killswitch" a wallet.

Besides, what's to stop thieves from carrying faraday bags to block any killswitch signals? Then they can switch it to airplane mode through the bag or take it to a faraday cage to download all the stuff at their leisure, flash a new firmware that doesn't respond to the killswitch (and probably includes malware backdoors so they can double-dip), and THEN fence it, confident it won't brick.

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Re: Can you think of any other consumer good @ Alan Denman

It's certainly reasonable for you to want the feature. It may even be a feature that many people want. What is NOT reasonable is for government to dictate that it be required rather than letting the industry offer it as a feature then customers can decide if that is what they want.

The arrogance of Gascon is appalling, dictating what the industry must do and then acting as though they are "dragging their feet" not doing something they would have if they wanted to. Then he goes so far as to state HIS patience is running out? He seems to be mistaken about his place in the world, that being elected to an office does not make him a god.

Don't worry though, this kind of tech will be applied to vehicles as well as phones. Hacker-robbers will disable your vehicle, brick your phone, then you'll be sitting there defenseless. It was nice to know you before you suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth. At least they didn't have a chance to sell your phone, right?

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Another stupid Calfornia Idea

There was crime before there was smartphones. If it is not worthwhile to steal a phone they will steal something else.

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Re: Another stupid Calfornia Idea

I'm not sure you're thinking that through all the way...

But anyway, this isn't a California idea, at all. California, San Francisco in particular, has been under heavy pressure from the Chief of Police here in DC for years. She goes out there several times a year, as well as sending emissaries constantly to apply pressure on mandating the 'kill switch'. It's a personal crusade of hers and she plays it big. There are posters in the Metro and she's on the radio talking about her initiatives and work here and in California.

California isn't as wacky as everyone thinks, they're the #1 target of every sort of lobbying effort imaginable, from places all over the country, and some of them get traction. If you can get California to pass a product law then the chances of it becoming the default increase exponentially. California is the 12th largest economy on Earth and everybody will bend to California's will, and it ends up being cheaper to make all their products compliant instead of a California only model.

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Re: Another stupid Calfornia Idea

Exactly, I suggest we also have electronically trackable cash as well as smartphones - I can see that solving a lot of social problems. Think of the power - banks could remotely reduce you to penury, Oh wait, they can do that now.

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Re: Another stupid Calfornia Idea

The phones aren't necessarily stolen to resell... they're stolen to keep the victim from calling the cops too fast. A kill switch will just result in a bunch of electronic waste.

Of course, telling a California Lawmaker anything is like talking to a brick wall.

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It doesn't prevent anything, people will just steal a phone and then install a different OS on it. Cyanogenmod even release a helper app to do this on the play store these days. Completely pointless legislation, the best you can hope for when your phones stolen is wiping your data.

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Pretty sure Android doesn't implement a kill switch at all, so I'm not sure what this "helper app" you're talking about has to do with this story. There was a story last month about carriers not wanting Samsung to implement a kill switch on its phones, which implies they don't have one now.

That's the nice thing about Apple's control freakery, it prevents carrier control freakery!

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And also, keep in mind what the police and the government really care about, they are bothered about crime figures, not actual crimes! They hate a large amount of the same crime category going on, makes them look they are not doing anything. If however the crime is spread out more, it looks far better on the figures released.They don't actually care about the crime, just the reporting figures.

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Unfortunately, there's a lot of truth in what you're saying. Managing by spreadsheet has become the norm in lots of places. It's sad.

But in this case there's a bit of difference, I talk about in a post above, in that the DC police chief has made national mobile kill switch legislation a personal crusade of hers. She really, really, really wants the legislation. I'm sure her goal is gaining political capital for her next step up the chain, but phone theft is an extra bad problem in here in DC. It's often senselessly violent and the worst part of this city is that the guy on your left is quite likely to be a Senator/other 'important person' and the guy on your right be a geeked out crackhead who is absolutely going to steal something. The chief would prefer the Senator not be robbed, but, as you say, she doesn't care much about the rest of us.

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Comodo Mobile Security

Comodo allows a whole range of things to be done to a phone that has been stolen.

Remote locate, SMS alert if the SIM is changed, sound a ear piercing alarm even in silent mode, remote lock, remote wipe, and even remote camera capture of the person who steals/buys the phone.

https://m.comodo.com/features.php

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Trollface

Compromise

I think it's wrong to force this on people, but on the other hand I do see why some would find it appealing. So I've devised a strategy inspired by nature which offers the best of both and gives end users a choice.

Instead of requiring all phones to have this, simply mandate that phones with this feature must be painted with orange and purple stripes, and ban other phones from using that pattern. Then just like a predator who becomes ill after eating a brightly colored poisonous newt, thieves will learn that it's no use stealing the stripy phones. Consumers will then be able to decide for themselves whether thieves or malicious remote bricking is the more serious threat and purchase accordingly.

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Re: Compromise

YA a business which produces aftermarket phone cases in purple and orange AICMFP!

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Anonymous Coward

What happens of the carriers decide to see who blinks first? If the carriers decide to pull all smartphones in California, then the public will be demanding the law be changed. If there is a SIM card, the people have a choice to get one from out of state.

Software can be bypassed as the kill switch requires a mobile network to operate. The thief steals the phone, turns it off and then they can take their stolen phone, use a jammer, flash the phone and voila, a phone without the kill switch. With the IMEI able to be changed through various means, how will the network cope with it. Even if they sent a kill signal it won't be for that phone. No matter how secure something is, it will be broken. The carriers have the OS customized, so with various software releases available there is bound to be an official OS without the kill switch software available.

If the kill switch was hacked and a vast amount of phones were bricked, the government wouldn't be responsible but the carriers that had no say in it.

The issue the government is not trying to tackle is that of the criminals. How many thieves probably get a slap on the wrist or the punishment is too light. The rewards outweighs the risk so the criminals will continue this until that is not the case.

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California has one of the largest economies on Earth and is one of the worlds 'trend setting' markets. If your product gets traction there it'll get traction pretty much anywhere on the planet. Nobody in consumer electronics is going to to pull their products out of there and jeopardize an influential market with a GDP and disposable income factor higher than Canada, France or Italy.

I don't like California, I don't find it very attractive, especially the cities, but it's key to any large scale consumer product's success here in the States and abroad. For better or worse, you've got to have a strong presence there if you want to play in the US consumer market.

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Anonymous Coward

California is 13th on the list if you go by per capita.

California doesn't pave the way as you think it does. For the longest time there were 49-state vehicles and then CARB complaint vehicles. Some vehicles were not available in California when they were available in the rest of the country. Texas is gaining ground on California and if you look at the difference year over year, you will see that Texas is gaining on California. Other states are gaining but Texas is the closest. NY is third on the list but they are not gaining; the year over year difference is not has high as what California has.

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