Samsung Adds Anti-Theft Tech Despite Resistance

Samsung announced it will be adding two safeguards to its soon-to-be-released Galaxy S5 smartphone that will lock their device whenever there is an unauthorized attempt to reset it. Up to now, wireless carriers have been resistant to such technology, claiming it could be misused by hackers.

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Samsung is moving ahead with mobile device safeguards against theft, despite past resistance from wireless carriers. This time, it appears that at least Verizon and U.S. Cellular are on board with the idea.

In an AP story this morning, Samsung announced it will be adding two safeguards to its soon-to-be-released Galaxy S5 smartphone. Users who purchase the device will be able to activate the free “Find My Mobile” and “Reactivation Lock” anti-theft features that will lock their device whenever there is an unauthorized attempt to reset it.

Mobile device theft, which sometimes becomes violent, is a problem in the U.S. It is believed that having some sort of “kill switch” would deter thefts if criminals knew they couldn’t reuse the phone.

It is estimated that consumers could save around $2.5 billion each year with kill switch technology that would allow victims of phone theft to disable their stolen devices. Roughly $500 million is spent on replacing stolen phones and $2 billion is spent by consumers buying premium cell phone insurance through wireless carriers.

Up to now, wireless carriers have been resistant to such technology, claiming it could be misused by hackers. The CTIA-The Wireless Association says a permanent kill switch has serious risks, including potential vulnerability to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out not only individuals' phones but also phones used by entities such as the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies.

Kill switch proponents point to a different reason carriers are resistant to the technology. An AP story in November mentions that Samsung officials told the San Francisco district attorney's office in July 2013 that carriers were resisting kill switches, and prosecutors had reviewed emails between a senior vice president at Samsung and a software developer about the issue. One email in August 2013 said Samsung had pre-installed kill switch software in some smartphones ready for shipment, but carriers ordered their removal as a standard feature.

"These emails suggest that the carriers are rejecting a technological solution so they can continue to shake down their customers for billions of dollars in (theft) insurance premiums," San Francisco district attorney George Gascon said. "I'm incensed. ... This is a solution that has the potential to end the victimization of their customers."

Fairly soon, carriers and manufacturers who want to do business in the U.S. might not have a choice, if recent legislation across the country is passed. Last week, California legislators introduced a bill that would require mobile devices sold in or shipped in the state be equipped with the anti-theft devices starting next year. Similar legislation is being considered in New York, Illinois and Minnesota; and bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress.

What do you think? Should kill switches become mandatory to deter thefts, violence and premium cell phone insurance plans? Or is the potential for hackers to disable a phone a real threat with kill switch technology?


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