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Google and Microsoft to include kill switch in future smartphones OS

In today’s press release by N.Y.A.G. Eric Schneiderman, following the announcement of a new report filed by the Secure Our Smartphones initiative showing how Apple kill-switch dramatically curbed violent crimes connected with iPhone thefts, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, and San Francisco attorney general George Gascón, announced jointly that Google and Microsoft will follow suit, by adopting a kill switch feature into the next versions of their mobile operating systems.

The SOS report shows the numbers of thefts, robberies and grand larcenies for iPhones, diving exponentially, since the introduction of the kill switch, while the statistics in regard to crimes perpetrated against Android users, and Samsung users in particular, have skyrocketed.

According to the President of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, Richard Aborn, theft of smartphones has been identified as a major public safety issue, with many of these robberies turning violent and putting people’s lives at risk.

So, what’s the hold-up?

The adoption of a kill-switch, or other method of remotely, and irreversibly, turning smartphones into paperweights has been long overdue on Android and Windows Phone devices.

On the Android’s front, the initial concern was the potential for exploitation of the kill switch, which in the hands of hackers, could turn into a weapon, in consideration of a ransomware scenario, in which smartphone users may unwittingly download apps or web content containing malware which could act as a remote connection, or “trojan horse”, that pirates could use to hold the user’s phone data at even higher ransom than PC users.

By 2015 it is prognosticated that web usage by mobile users will surpass desktop usage, which means, more users store sensitive data into their phones on a permanent basis.

The trend follows the same logic as vehicular theft and break-ins. Thieves and robbers are not as interested in the cash value of the items, as much as the information that is contained within, like tax document and financials, credit card information, even personal information that can be used with all kinds of malicious intent. As the report by the SOS shows, thieves do not care for the hardware in itself. Once the data is wiped from a device, all a thief is left with is the device itself, which is not easier to sell than a pair of cheap headphones, off the back of a truck.

While the kill-switch on iPhones seems to be a remarkable idea, Apple has a unique way to keep its devices under control, and the company has always put the security of its users before any other priority, sometimes at the cost of making one of the least flexible platforms on the market.

Android, as well as Windows Phone, on the other hand share a greater risk of being exploited, kill-switch or not, and the cost of regaining possession of phone data could be even higher than the toll imposed on PC users.

Reality check

While the kill-switch initiative, from a government perspective, is going to happen, it’s important to understand the nature of technology. While users might feel relatively safer on the streets, a remote smartphone switch has the potential for exploitation by hackers, and because of this very reason, the trade-off for security could be a devastating image blog for Google and Microsoft, as a premature adoption of such countermeasure could lead to the rise of ransomware and other methods for pirates to exploit Android and Microsoft mobile devices.

What we can certainly expect from Google and Microsoft, is an obvious emphasis on security, better safety measures, and an existing and growing pool of apps and OS upgrades available for free, that can help secure phone data, but both companies have been cautious in promising a kill-switch functionality, which on iOS has worked as expected, and as fast as it did, due to the Apple iOS ecosystem, which works along very different parameters in respect to Windows and Android. No doubt, the kill-switch concept for Android and Windows Phone is in the cards. How it will be implemented in order for both companies not to risk an image problem, is yet to be revealed.

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