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Smartphone Kill Switch, Consumer Boon Or Way For Government To Brick Your Phone?

samzenpus posted about a month ago | from the best-of-both-worlds dept.

Government 299

MojoKid writes We're often told that having a kill switch in our mobile devices — mostly our smartphones — is a good thing. At a basic level, that's hard to disagree with. If every mobile device had a built-in kill switch, theft would go down — who would waste their time over a device that probably won't work for very long? Here's where the problem lays: It's law enforcement that's pushing so hard for these kill switches. We first learned about this last summer, and this past May, California passed a law that requires smartphone vendors to implement the feature. In practice, if a smartphone has been stolen, or has been somehow compromised, its user or manufacturer would be able to remotely kill off its usability, something that would be reversed once the phone gets back into its rightful owner's hands. However, such functionality should be limited to the device's owner, and no one else. If the owner can disable a phone with nothing but access to a computer or another mobile device, so can Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia or Apple. If the designers of a phone's operating system can brick a phone, guess who else can do the same? Everybody from the NSA to your friendly neighborhood police force, that's who. At most, all they'll need is a convincing argument that they're acting in the interest of "public safety."

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Why such paranoia ? (5, Funny)

x0ra (1249540) | about a month ago | (#47716513)

We all know our leader are just aiming to our best... don't they ?

Re:Why such paranoia ? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716609)

Your sarcasm aside, turn the idea around and convince me there is any situation short of an emergency where the big evil government would use this power even if they had it? Bricking phones would Streisand effect whatever situation they were trying to clamp down on. And, it doesn't necessarily prevent data from being exported off the flash drives. I can't imagine this being useful to any sort of authoritarian power in any regular way. Sure you could probably imagine one scenario where they use something like this to stop a story getting out -- but it wouldn't always work, and they would never get to use it again.... This isn't an illegal search of someone's phone, there is no point in abusing the power to brick someone's phone.

Conversely there is very real and tangible benefit to crime reduction.

So, yes, why such paranoia?

Re:Why such paranoia ? (4, Insightful)

sexconker (1179573) | about a month ago | (#47716633)

Your sarcasm aside, turn the idea around and convince me there is any situation short of an emergency where the big evil government would use this power even if they had it? Bricking phones would Streisand effect whatever situation they were trying to clamp down on. And, it doesn't necessarily prevent data from being exported off the flash drives. I can't imagine this being useful to any sort of authoritarian power in any regular way. Sure you could probably imagine one scenario where they use something like this to stop a story getting out -- but it wouldn't always work, and they would never get to use it again.... This isn't an illegal search of someone's phone, there is no point in abusing the power to brick someone's phone.

Conversely there is very real and tangible benefit to crime reduction.

So, yes, why such paranoia?

Someone leaks sensitive information to the media. Government tracks phone. Government dispatches goon. Government bricks phone to prevent victim from alerting the medial, recording the incident, calling for help, etc. Victim is disappeared.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716707)

So your situation is something you saw on 24?

Unless the guy is live streaming 24/7 then your goon can brick the whistleblower's phone with an actual brick.

Also, look at real whistleblowers and try to explain how the government would have stopped Snowden with this power? Stop imagining spy drama fiction.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (3)

msauve (701917) | about a month ago | (#47716823)

Government bricks phone to prevent victim from alerting the medial, recording the incident, calling for help, etc.

As if someone can't buy a pre-pay phone from any Wally-mart, move their SIM to another phone, or simply use an unassociated phone to communicate with. I realize the tin foil to make a hat is cheaper, but that's not a good rationalization.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Skidborg (1585365) | about a month ago | (#47716921)

What scenario would any of your proposed "solutions" to the authorities bricking your phone actually help in? The time frame is obviously too short to make a trip to Walmart, and what kind of lunatic carries two phones all the time?

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

msauve (701917) | about a month ago | (#47717133)

In what sort of scenario are "authorities" going to be able to (or even want to) brick your phone in a timely manner, where a need to communicate is critical? In any SHTF situation, the whole (or localized) cellular infrastructure could be shut down - it's the height of hubris to think they'd be targeting you individually, and that you're the key to preventing the Illuminati from taking over. And, even if they were targeting you, the next person you run into would let you make a call on their unlimited minute plan if you simply said it was an "emergency."

A tin foil hat is much less hassle. But if you really think they're all out to get you, you should probably start carrying a firearm.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about a month ago | (#47717277)

Maybe it's not about "me". You don't have to be black to appreciate what Rosa Parks did.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (2)

msauve (701917) | about a month ago | (#47717335)

You think Rosa Parks had a cell phone?

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about a month ago | (#47717361)

If you have a prepaid phone that you used cash for, the government has no idea who owns the phone in the first place.

Also, it is doubtful that the time frame for bricking phones is all that precise. There will likely be some formal process done through the carriers that takes some time to go through. All that bricking a phone would do is tip off the suspect that the government is on to them.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (2, Interesting)

AHuxley (892839) | about a month ago | (#47716913)

Think back to East Germany. Even if a West German camera did look down over a city and capture a protest been broken up, the footage would still have to make it out of the area for later broadcast.
What the US gov is seeking is a wifi, cell and upload block per city zone. A member of the press would have to find their van, a citizen journalist would seek the working internet thats open to the wider public in real time if they had phone upload "account" issues ;).
Be fun if working free internet was offered as bait to track all the citizen journalists? A person sees their media upload but they are now identified in real time.
The longer a person is in a dark city with real collected video of an event the more ability a gov has to spin, control or preempt the optics of an event or hunt down that lone citizen journalist.
ie your phone is on but just cant seem to upload - your now carrying a unique beacon with media that needs to be sent and are on the move.
In East Germany all the gov could do is look at TV images later and find the site used long after an event was broadcast to the world.
In 2014 all a gov with a tame telco has to do is find your phone trying to upload. The unique video never gets out anymore. The citizen journalist is swept up and phone lost.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about a month ago | (#47717109)

If and when you find yourself carrying said beacon, for petes sake turn it off until you can get to a secure place to transmit the phone's contents out. There, now it's not a beacon any longer.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47717157)

Excellent points. However, all of that is already possible with Stingray and/or as you say a "friendly" telco.

Tracking the location of a phone has great user value, and great potential for abuse.

Remote locking / bricking has great user value, but much less practical value for abuse.

Or, you know, you could just use a VPN. . . (1)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about a month ago | (#47717371)

. . . if you're that paranoid.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (2)

Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) | about a month ago | (#47717339)

The government needs to "brick" phones to protect classified information in the same way that Superman needs to throw bricks to win a street fight, which is to say, not at all.

The government has a myriad of resources at its disposal to deal with security leaks, the most obvious being simply sending someone to take you into custody. Bricking phones of suspects would do very little other than possibly tip them off that they are in trouble with the authorities.

 

Re:Why such paranoia ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716643)

If they really wanted to brick phones at a mass scale I'm sure there's already a kill switch at some govt terminal that'll bring down selected cell service.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716657)

The ability to brick phones without the consent of the one who possesses the phone inherently indicates that the user does not actually control their phone. Software on phones must be free software so that users can know exactly what the phone is doing, and can modify what it does. Hardware must be fully open.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716675)

The ability to brick phones is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (4, Funny)

Richy_T (111409) | about a month ago | (#47717285)

I have altered your calling plan, yada yada

Re:Why such paranoia ? (4, Insightful)

mcl630 (1839996) | about a month ago | (#47716751)

Your Streisand effect theory works for widespeard bricking, or say a large protestors at a large protest. But it doesn't work on the small scale. Imagine if some poor schumck recorded video on his smartphone of that cop in Ferguson shooting that kid. They'd brick the phone immediately, eliminating the video, and only leaving the schumck's word that he had the video.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (4, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | about a month ago | (#47716819)

And, or course, the fact that the phone was bricked for no reason. Also, the video will be recoverable.

I don't think they are talking about putting a button in every police car that bricks phones.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (5, Insightful)

mcl630 (1839996) | about a month ago | (#47716963)

Doesn't the kill switch also wipe the phone? The existing Android Device Manager and whatever Apple's version is called wipe the phone remotely, to protect personal information from the thief.

The beat cop doesn't need a "kill switch", he just has to call the station and they can do it or contact whoever does it, quick enough.

Frankly, I'm more concerned with hackers or script kiddies bricking thousands of phones for lol's, than I am about hypothetical law enforcement abuse of it, but it remains a possibility.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about a month ago | (#47717115)

The code to brick the phones will be super secret. On the order of the encryption that protected DVDs.

The phone vendors don't mind, because when the waves of hooligans hit with mass cellphone-kill signals, we will all have to buy another. It's even easier than planned obsolescence in OS updates.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about a month ago | (#47717137)

a PC packed with FPGAs and a microcell could work as a rolling nuke that cracked and bricked every cell phone in a 2 klick radius

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Trogre (513942) | about a month ago | (#47717165)

And, or course, the fact that the phone was bricked for no reason. Also, the video will be recoverable.

If video is recoverable then the bricking process is defective.

I don't think they are talking about putting a button in every police car that bricks phones.

Not yet they're not.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about a month ago | (#47717313)

That would be more likely to be some portable MIB style device that sends a code to halt/delete recording. Something similar is already done for scanners and currency

Re:Why such paranoia ? (4, Insightful)

crioca (1394491) | about a month ago | (#47716811)

I can't imagine this being useful to any sort of authoritarian power in any regular way.

I'd say you lack imagination then, because the first thing that came to my mind was "Boy I bet the police in Ferguson would love to be able to disable people's phones right now."

Used on people en masse it'd be a great way for governments impede and control the flow of information around all sorts of events.

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about a month ago | (#47717147)

"Boy I bet the police in Ferguson would love to be able to disable people's phones right now."

Why? To squelch the 12 witnesses who favor the police officer's account?

Re:Why such paranoia ? (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about a month ago | (#47717321)

"right now"?

Bricking or Tracking? (4, Insightful)

rsborg (111459) | about a month ago | (#47716555)

Why should THE MAN want to brick your phone, when instead they can just track you - that's what they want - then they can brick *you* as needed.

Re:Bricking or Tracking? (-1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about a month ago | (#47716593)

They want to prevent people from using new communication technology to self-organize and make the existing government obsolete.

Or maybe it's that I want to use mobile as a platform to develop new communication technology that will let people self-organize and make existing government obsolete, but this renders the enterprise pointless.

Yeah, probably that second one.

Re:Bricking or Tracking? (2)

beelsebob (529313) | about a month ago | (#47716687)

How would self organisation make roads magically get built, garbage magically get picked up, and the firefighters magically get paid on time?

Re:Bricking or Tracking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716733)

It'll be self-organisation with a little bit of totalitarianism and slavery.

Re:Bricking or Tracking? (4, Insightful)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a month ago | (#47716771)

The funny thing is that when self organizing takes place and organization is formed. When that organization get complex enough it looks very much like a government.

Re:Bricking or Tracking? (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about a month ago | (#47717333)

Good, bad, I'm the collective with the gun.

That's the difference.

Re:Bricking or Tracking? (2)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about a month ago | (#47716801)

Why would they want to brick your phone? For the same reason they'll hold you for a few hours and then release you without charge, for the same reason they will confiscate your property without arrest, for the same reason they'll rough you up and then not charge you with anything. They are ways to punish people who come into their field of view for real or perceived transgressions without going through that pesky process of proving that something illegal actually happened. If this capability is realized I wouldn't be surprised if phones within a block or so of a protest are bricked, if phones that were near a case of police misconduct suddenly don't work, all of course "for the safety of the public".

Re:Bricking or Tracking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716849)

This times 1000. The Three Letter Agencies don't want to brick phones, they want to eavesdrop on them. A bricked phone has an information content (new content) of zero! And the TLA's want to eavesdrop covertly or else the user may start to change the way they use the phone. A perfectly good phone that suddenly stops working for no reason is a huge red flag!

Now once you get into the area of classically repressive governments (as opposed to the new-style TLA intrusions), well maybe. I can imagine a government attempting to suppress mass protests against it, by a mass phone bricking effort. Not sure what you do about that to be honest...

However. Let's be real here, theft of phones is a problem world-wide. We're talking everywhere and all the time! There have to be millions of thefts/lost phones a year going on, all told.

Also, those governments attempting to suppress dissent by bricking? What's to stop a dissident from getting another phone? And in the case of mass protests, going after the carriers is much more expedient than bricking thousands of individual phones, IMO.

Re:Bricking or Tracking? (5, Insightful)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about a month ago | (#47717201)

Consider what the gov would call 'emergencies'. We may call them protests, even rebellion. Suppose the next banking crisis has come around. Suppose this time things don't evolve so orderly for all those presidential advisors and what have you. Suppose these, those protests, get out of hand -- from the perspective of the gov, mind you. Yes, they would see it as rebellion. Now is the gov gonna want to track you and the rest of your 10,000 protestors? No, they just want to kill any organizational aspects of it asap and thus disperse the lot into chaos. Divide and conquer, on the street level, so to speak. I don't think I have to tell you where your phone came into this picture. Comms, pictures taken, police being filmed, free YouTube placement -- bah!, don't want any of that anymore. The gov want to be able to brick it -- even if temporarily, while at the same time having their own communications channels up and running in spiffy order all the time.
You can seen where all this fits in, our latter days of class warfare.

I wonder ... (3, Insightful)

jcochran (309950) | about a month ago | (#47716567)

If bricking a phone would also result in any stored photographs going "bye bye".... I can think of quite a few police who would like that feature.

Re:I wonder ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716729)

At least in the case of iOS, no. There are various levels of bricking available
1) Lock the phone in a way that it can't be unlocked without access to iCloud
2) actually erase the phone.

The former is the one used most commonly for "oh shit oh shit my phone was stolen".

The issue is that (much like car thefts) the crime has stopped being theft, and started being kidnapping. With cars, they grab the car with you, and the keys in it. With iPhones, they hold you at gunpoint until you unregister the phone from iCloud.

Re:I wonder ... (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | about a month ago | (#47717007)

they hold you at gunpoint until you unregister the phone from iCloud.

Sucks for you if the honest answer to that demand is "My password is a 20-character random string, stored on my computer 2 hours away".

I wonder ... (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about a month ago | (#47716969)

The US can now brick aspects of your phone and track your phone. Still powered on and seems to work but just cant upload in a city that night.
The more a person wants to upload, the more interesting the user is.
Let voice only work to see if any unlisted friends are called in real time for much needed tech help, if the media captured is described.
A person cannot upload, but the phone still seems to work and is very trackable. A gov could then send some new software down too?
Hoping a person of interest would not give up on their still working phone over weeks, months when upload ability is restored soon after.

Incorrect assumption (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716573)

If the owner can disable a phone with nothing but access to a computer or another mobile device, so can Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia or Apple.

Not necessarily true... It's entirely possible that you could implement this by encrypting a lock/unlock token with a key known only to the user. Google/Samsung/MS/Nokia/Apple would be no more capable of generating such a token than anyone else.

Re:Incorrect assumption (1)

sexconker (1179573) | about a month ago | (#47716673)

If the owner can disable a phone with nothing but access to a computer or another mobile device, so can Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia or Apple.

Not necessarily true... It's entirely possible that you could implement this by encrypting a lock/unlock token with a key known only to the user. Google/Samsung/MS/Nokia/Apple would be no more capable of generating such a token than anyone else.

If you can initially set the key, then the key is capable of being reset or even read.
If you cannot initially set the key, then the key is set before hand, and is thus known to other parties.

If you use e-fuses or something similar in order to prevent resetting of the key, it just means you have to deal with shit at the hardware level to reset or read the key.

The manufacturer of a phone will always be able to fuck ur shit, though GP is incorrect in asserting that they'd be able to do it over the web as easily as the end user. (If it's designed properly. In reality, we all know they'll have back doors.)

Re:Incorrect assumption (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | about a month ago | (#47717033)

If you can initially set the key, then the key is capable of being reset or even read.

Unless it's stored in memory that the user is only given write-only access to, and the only thing that can read it is the chip it got burned in to (and which provides black-box encryption/decryption). It's technically readable, if you wish to de-cap the chip an analyze it.

Re:Incorrect assumption (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about a month ago | (#47717359)

Even then, reading the key may not be useful if it can only be used to decrypt and not encrypt.

Undo! (3, Interesting)

zelbinion (442226) | about a month ago | (#47716585)

If you can un-brick the phone after it has been bricked, I'm sure someone will figure out a way to do this without involving the official channels. Theft might go down for a while, and it might never be as high as it once was, but once someone figures out how to un-brick the phone, steeling a phone will still get you something, even if you have to use it on another network or another country. Think blocking the IMEI is going to do it? There are already methods of changing or spoofing IMEI codes on lots of phones. This will stop casual theft, but like most locks, it won't deter determined thieves.

Re: Undo! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716835)

There's also nothing stopping a thief from stealing a phone, dismantling it for the screen, then selling the screen. It seems like 3/4 of the people I see on public transport these days have a broken screen on their smartphone.

Re: Undo! (2)

vux984 (928602) | about a month ago | (#47716865)

There's also nothing stopping a thief from stealing a phone, dismantling it for the screen, then selling the screen.

So because it will only stop most phone theft crime instead of ALL phone theft crime that it's a bad idea? Is THAT your argument?

Re: Undo! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47717325)

I believe the argument was "if it stops stealing the phone for the phones sake, it'll change the thefts in to more of a chop shop operation". A stolen phone is still stolen, no matter what the thief does with it.

I am tin foil, fine. (2)

markdavis (642305) | about a month ago | (#47716595)

>"Here's where the problem lays: It's law enforcement that's pushing so hard for these kill switches. "

Yeah, like I have been warning people for years anytime the topic comes up. Government misuse. Security nightmare when it gets hacked. Etc. They just say I am paranoid or "tin foil" or whatnot.

I guess I can remind them about my warnings over the last decade about the fed and big business spying on USA citizens. I am amazed at how little most people care about privacy/freedom.

Now, let me get back to reading this letter I got from State Farm today explaining how wonderful it will be to save "up to 5%" on my State Farm car insurance if I am willing to plug in a device that constantly tracks my braking, acceleration, turns, speed, distance, and location.

Re:I am tin foil, fine. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716743)

Except it's not tracking, it's bricking. Crow all you want but there is only one thing they can do with a remote kill switch, and they can only do it once.

This kinda of paranoia is stupid when compared to the real crime reduction seen when we can remote brick.

You're not tin foil, you're an "I told you so" broken clock.

Re:I am tin foil, fine. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716815)

Its still fucking true though, hes only repeating it because assholes like you are unable/unwilling to listen/care.
In your case its probably unwilling to care, because it upsets your pathetic little world view.

Re:I am tin foil, fine. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47717081)

People who just whine about government abuse are the ones espousing a world view. Especially when faced with the challenge to weigh their concerns vs user benefit and all they can respond with is "i told you so".

If you can back up your argument with something more substantive, do so. If you can't, be quiet.

Re:I am tin foil, fine. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47717019)

Except the summary claims it's reversable. Should RTFA to see if it really would be. Then, there's no safety at all, every thief will be able to reverse the bricking (they're far more adept than your average bunch, their livelyhood depends on it after all).

IEDs (1)

xdor (1218206) | about a month ago | (#47717307)

Mobile phones are easy triggers. They just want a way to blanket turn off if they have security recording of a terrorist buying x brand phone at y store.

Let's hope... (1)

DigitAl56K (805623) | about a month ago | (#47716627)

Let's hope that the logic to brick is in some piece of code that can be subverted via a custom OS build and not something close to the radio receiver.

Also: I will laugh really hard as soon as the blackhats release a tool to bypass security and auto-brick, and then someone heads to the nearest mall on a Saturday with a high-power radio.

Re:Let's hope... (1)

Smallpond (221300) | about a month ago | (#47716705)

Actually, it's just a change to /etc/hosts.

Re: Let's hope... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716855)

If they're not incompetent, the software stack will ignore certain entries in /etc/hosts to avoid that workaround. Windows 8 already does this I believe.

Just like a Govt Backdoor. (2)

deverox (177930) | about a month ago | (#47716629)

While I actually agree that this type of feature SHOULD exist I think it is better implemented at the Operator level by them implementing IMEI blocking like every other major carrier around the world. This "kill switch" sounds like a huge target for hackers as all they need to do is break down one wall and they have access to everyones phones kill switch. Much like when China and other Rogue states infiltrated Gmail and other mail carriers years ago it wasnt through the front door but the secret back door that the Govt had installed.

you're really asking why this would be useful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716639)

To cut off access to the internet to large crowds, protestors, or even larger groups; the ability to brick individual devices could be useful for destroying evidence from phones as well as cutting off a stranded individual from connectivity.

An (admittedly dramatic) example: you're being followed by a car when men you don't recognize get out and start running after you. You try to call 911 or someone to help while running and find your phone has been bricked. The damage this could do to US persons abroad is tremendous. I stop to wonder how many smartphones worldwide are already 'kill-chipped' in such a manner by US Intelligence Community and others already.

you're really asking why this would be useful? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about a month ago | (#47716999)

Re "I stop to wonder how many smartphones worldwide are already 'kill-chipped' in such a manner by US Intelligence Community and others already."
In other nations its just a nice, helpful, free telco feature stopping a working phone after its been lost.... built in as sold :)

All of the Above (tm) (2)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a month ago | (#47716667)

It's actually All of the Above (tm).

It's a way for you to turn off and disable a stolen phone.

And it's a quick way for the Thought Police to turn off all cell phones which take nasty pics and vids and audio when they go all East Germany Stasi on your First Amendment and other rights.

By the way, in case you didn't know, even when they "turn off" wireless and cell node tracers in urban centers that could track your cell phone, they can always turn them back on with 5 minutes. So those cities that "removed" them but never physically removed them still have them enabled for crackdowns on anyone who thinks they actually have rights.

My phone's already a brick (1)

infolation (840436) | about a month ago | (#47716691)

My motto's always been 'always purchase a mobile phone that can be thrown, hard, at an annoying client's head and still function afterwards'.

In fact my current brick-like antique Nokia doesn't have a kill-switch, but it can certainly be used as one.

Re:My phone's already a brick (2)

geekoid (135745) | about a month ago | (#47716797)

YOU are why IT has such a bad reputation.

Re:My phone's already a brick (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a month ago | (#47716907)

You must do IT consulting. While satisfying as a business strategy, I guess it limits revenue.

reality check (0)

supernova87a (532540) | about a month ago | (#47716703)

The average person should worry much more about their phone being stolen than being interfered with by the government on their way to a protest. Maybe it's time to stop trading off the useful in the name of the hypothetical.

Re:reality check (2)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | about a month ago | (#47716937)

Blanket bricking of cell phones, or selective bricking of those of "ringleaders", is an inevitable problem for the most peaceful and well behaved political rally with this kind of technology in government hands. Remember the "Arab Sping", and Tianenmen Square, and even the more recent and quite peaceful "Occupy Wall Street" protests.in the US, and understand exactly why and how law enforcement want this kind of power.

Re:reality check (1)

Skidborg (1585365) | about a month ago | (#47716945)

I don't know. I have had zero phones stolen in my lifetime, but I am becoming increasingly interested in attending protests...

Hardware as a platform (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716709)

I am not *much* of a developer, but unless this kill switch is rendering the HARDWARE unusable, cannot you're software of choice simply be written back into the device via whatever serial connection was originally used to set it up in the first place?

        I have a good deal of experience with standing on the shoulders of geniuses to mod everything from Playstations to wifi cards and CB radios, quite a few times I have *bricked* a device, only to discover a way to resurrect it week or two later.... at most I expect the replacement of a somehow scrambled ROM chip or re-writing a backup of something would restore most devices.... is this not the case with this?

Re:Hardware as a platform (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716857)

Most smartphones today have several stages of bootloaders, each with decreasing security.
If you manage to fuck the first stages, there might not be a way to re-flash it. other than finding exploits or probably glitching the hardware.

EULA... automatic brick at end of contract? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716741)

How long until carriers start strong-arming consumers to allow them to brick the phone at the end of the contract? Perhaps at first they'll offer a discount incentive?

IED Prevention (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716777)

Brick all phones at suspected location

Re:IED Prevention (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a month ago | (#47716895)

Sure, and there are no other radio technologies. Or fibers. Or wires. Or lasers.

The government doesn't need this (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a month ago | (#47716793)

when they can just have your cell company shut down you service.

Device to brick all phones in an area (2)

Animats (122034) | about a month ago | (#47716839)

The next step will be a modification to the "stingray" fake cell site unit to brick all phones in an area and prevent uploading of audio or video. This will be used during demonstrations.

One word (1)

lsllll (830002) | about a month ago | (#47716883)

EBay. What if the seller I bought the phone from didn't like the negative feedback I left him for the phone not being described correctly and decided to be a dick and brick my phone? Giving owners that capability effectively kills much of the second and third hand market.

The police is not a concern (4, Interesting)

gweihir (88907) | about a month ago | (#47716889)

As in any good police state, if the police does not like you, the relevant US police force will just shoot you in your home and either claim they had the wrong address, or place some drugs or hints of terror-support. Bricking phones is for children.

Consider that social security numbers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47716897)

...were never intended to be I.D.

What could possibly go wrong?

Unintended consequences, or intended consequences? (1)

QuietLagoon (813062) | about a month ago | (#47716909)

When there is civil unrest, governments have shown little hesitation to block social media sites.

.
Why would anyone think that governments would show the least bit of hesitation to brick smartphones under similar circumstances?

Re:Unintended consequences, or intended consequenc (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47717063)

That and as they already so, use the phone broadcast data to log peoples location etc for future charges(protests etc).

FUD (2)

Kevin King (3775125) | about a month ago | (#47716947)

This is nothing but FUD. The Guv'munt can already listen in through the microphone, read everything sent through and stored on your phone, and even use your body as an antennae to connect wireless to a nearby device. "Oh but what if the government bricks my phone!!" Stop living in fear. They can already do much worse. I'm not normally a fan of giving Law Enforcement what it wants, but in this case, their intentions are pure (ish). They don't want to have to spend time chasing down peoples stolen phones. It's the bulk of their time these days, they have better things to do. You don't want there to be an incentive for people to steal your phone. It's a simple matter to disallow a certain phone's ID from a network. The fact that phone companies haven't done this themselves already is the real crime here.

It's for your own good (0)

BobandMax (95054) | about a month ago | (#47716951)

But, if you must complain, file a grievance with the Internal Security Ministry, Sedition Division.

new dmca brickdown request... (1)

Matthew Bryant (3785987) | about a month ago | (#47716985)

Yes...this will be the best way to stop criminals...especially IP thieves and copyright violators. Just brick everyone in the bit torrent swarm by court order. The next step is to extend this to all computing devices...AMD and Intel and homeland security can come up with a bricking standard that runs in like ring negative three :)

For kill switch ONLY if activated by owner (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47717053)

I only support the kill switch if it is activated by the owner. Be it a long ass keyphrase or something like that. NOT if activated by anyone else (gov, telco, etc)

Re:For kill switch ONLY if activated by owner (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about a month ago | (#47717077)

You know that's not why they are mandating it, right?

Way For Government To Brick Your Phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47717099)

Way For Government To Brick Your Phone

PS, this should have been a 2 question slashdot poll.

Way for *any hacker* to brick your phone (1)

Trogre (513942) | about a month ago | (#47717135)

Who actually wants a kill switch? Anyone on /. at all?

This anti-feature will be used by not just government but any suffiently motivated hackers to kill your communications. The one ostensible benefit mentioned here is anti-theft, but of course that relies on the mechanism working reliably in the first place and secondly not being circumvented by a thief five minutes after they have acquired it.

Just like the idiotic remote car immobilisers that people who should know better are so quick to adopt. Just wait until some hacker gets the code to your car and holds it to ransom or worse, immobilises it on a freeway. What about when overzealous local law enforcement decides to immobilise all cars exceeding the limit by 1%.

Re:Way for *any hacker* to brick your phone (2)

aXis100 (690904) | about a month ago | (#47717255)

I want a kill switch, in fact I have one on my phone right now in the form of an IMEI blocking scheme by my telco. If someone nicks my new phone it will be worthless within a day.

So far the schemes seem to be working fine and has been adopted across most of Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. It's not actively enforced in many parts of asia and as such has become a hotspot for stolen phone sales.

IMEI Blocking in Australia (1)

labnet (457441) | about a month ago | (#47717153)

In OZ, the carriers block at the IMEI level, so if a phone is stolen you can't use it in Australia (unless you can change the IMEI to one that the carriers recognise as valid)
http://www.lost.amta.org.au/ [amta.org.au]

Why doen't the USA do this as a sterting point?

Re:IMEI Blocking in Australia (2)

aXis100 (690904) | about a month ago | (#47717215)

Lots of countries do this already. The US is one of the few that doesnt, and seem to be getting their panties in a knot trying to figure it out. I dont know if it's a "not invented here" issue or just a deep seated mistrust of their government.

The fact is:
- IMEI blocking has generally been working fine. There are supposedly methods to reflash the IMEI on *some* phones but it's quite difficult.
- We are not seeing reports of governments abusing the feature.

God forbid, we're all doomed. (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about a month ago | (#47717205)

God forbid America implement a feature that already exists in the rest of the world and has worked perfectly for many many years. Clearly copying a working implementation from some other country will doom all citizens. We don't need that "public safety" thing.

They can already cut off your service (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a month ago | (#47717209)

You don't need a kill switch built in to the phone. You just cut the service off at the carrier.
The capability already exists.

All this paranoia about "Oh no, the government could silence me when I'm at a protest!". They could already do it if they wanted to.
They could ask your carrier to cut off your network access. You'd be restricted to WiFi.
If a kill switch was built in to the phone but you've taken out your SIM and only used WiFi, they wouldn't have access to the kill switch.

If you're paranoid, there is no difference.

Re:They can already cut off your service (2)

Jiro (131519) | about a month ago | (#47717245)

Asking your carrier to cut off your network access doesn't prevent you from taking pictures and videos with the phone.

Re:They can already cut off your service (1)

EmperorArthur (1113223) | about a month ago | (#47717289)

You don't need a kill switch built in to the phone. You just cut the service off at the carrier.
The capability already exists.

Denial of Service has happened in the past. I believe BART did this to try and deal with protesters. The thing is that cell phones still connect to towers even if the SIM card is removed, and you're excluding the phones that don't even have SIM cards. As has been previously mentioned we're going to start seeing stories about "undesirables" phones being wiped.

Is this a rhetorical question? (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about a month ago | (#47717211)

It's about control. Why else would the government mandate it?

Sad we need to think about this, but we do. (1)

sasparillascott (1267058) | about a month ago | (#47717247)

I know that Apple introduced that feature with iOS 7 and the number of robberies of iPhones dropped dramatically thereafter...which was the point of it and a really nice thing to see.

However, this angle on things, which I hadn't thought of, is totally on target - this is totally ripe for abuse by the NSA etc. when the correct number comes up..political or otherwise. Remember we have seen one of these agencies erase information that the Senate was looking at to audit them with, then that agencies leader lies under oath about it - then doesn't get punished in the slightest for it afterwards.

At this point, Joe public wouldn't need to worry about it, but we need to have things set for when stuff gets bad (when the wrong President gets into power and knows how to use all that intelligence offense he has behind a military official whose only oath is to his orders) and things go to a police state for political gain (as it always is)...then this becomes a terrible thing and not worth having.

To Serve Man. . . (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47717265)

The Twilight Zone episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

This story paid for by AT&T and Verizon... (4, Insightful)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a month ago | (#47717311)

If the authorities want to stop you from calling, they can already tell the providers to block your IMEI. They can also track you as you move between towers, listen in to your phone calls if they want, and read your SMS messages. But seriously, the providers can already "brick" your phone - otherwise, how do you think they shut off service when you stop paying your bills? How do you think they know to charge you for your long distance calls? And similarly, the police/NSA/CIA/FBI/whomever already has all of those abilities, simply by telling the phone company to give them whatever they want.

Enabling a kill switch is not really creating a new kill switch... It's simply giving you, the purchaser, the right to tell the phone company to block the IMEI using the same tools that law enforcement does now. It literally costs them nothing to allow, since it already exists, but, as noted in the Summary, will result in a huge drop in the number of re-purchased phones after theft/breakage... phones that are frequently re-purchased at full price, due to the multi-year contract lock-ins. This is all about money, not freedom.

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