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Berginski: Addressing cell phone theft now?

By Staff | Apr 18, 2014

Cell phone theft is a problem. A new iPhone or Android can be a prime target for thieves wanting to hock it and make some easy money, or to steal for the thrill.

Oh, but fear not, “smart phone” users, lawmakers have your back. They are forcing mobile carriers to create and make mandatory the installation of what’s called a “kill switch” application next year.

It works like this: your phone gets stolen, you notify someone as such and it becomes, effectively, a paperweight. Your data will be wiped, and your phone will be rendered non-functional until you enter a password.

The fact that cell phone theft is being addressed NOW instead of earlier shocks me. I know it’s hard to see very far ahead sometimes with regards to technology. (I’m still waiting for cars that drive themselves.) It almost seems as though no one thought cell phones could be stolen as they’ve evolved to become more fancy-schmancy, and we’re trying to solve it through legislation.

It isn’t just phones we have to worry about being stolen in this day and age, it’s data and personal information-which can be more valuable. A simple app or piece of code may be inadequate, and may also be more trouble than it’s worth.

For instance, your personal information could be found without taking your phone. For example, using a website called “Shodan”, a would-be hacker could find the computer I typed this column on and any personal information I have wherein. (Passwords, credit card numbers, bank account numbers-I don’t think I need to tell you how damaging those can be in the wrong hands.)

In the time it takes to install and activate software, one’s “smart phone” could still be vulnerable to theft. Tangible theft. What good would that do in that situation? Also, to get every customer with a “smart phone” this “kill switch” could prove costly for carriers to implement.

There’s also the fear this “kill switch” could be exploited by hackers. There’s a possible scenario in which multiple phones could be shut down en masse by someone sending a signal to those phones, and no one would be able to call 911 in the event of an emergency.

Not to mention, there are applications and services that already do this. The new iPhone has it installed already. I have one on my phone, Lookout Mobile, that does the same thing. The best part is it costs less than lunch and I installed it by choice after finding it in an app store. Users should have the choice to install it if they want to, and they should be aware that services doing the exact same thing are available already. They don’t have to wait until 2015.

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