The Kill Switch: Rendering Smartphones Useless to Thieves

February 27th, 2015   |  

Identity theft is rampant, and smartphones are prime targets – even more so than on computers.

“According to the National Consumers League, handheld devices were stolen from 1.6 million Americans in 2012. In California, smartphone theft accounts for more than half of all crimes in San Francisco, Oakland and other cities” (Smartphone theft drops, Indeed, the smartphone is a hot commodity.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon referred to smartphone theft as a “national epidemic.”

Similar to the computer, the smartphone can hold a tremendous amount of personal information, such as photos, emails, banking, and credit card information. In addition, iPhones and Android smartphones have location history, meaning that the smartphone tells Google and Apple where you’ve been by way of cell towers and WiFi signals.

According to the National Consumer League, a “typical stolen iPhone” can fetch around $200. The price rises dramatically overseas where a stolen iPhone can be sold for more than $2,000 in Hong Kong (Smartphone theft a ‘national epidemic,

Thank goodness there has been a collaborative effort between wireless companies and cell phone manufacturers to deter smartphone theft – the kill switch.

The kill switch is referred to differently depending upon the smartphone maker, but works in a similar way. Upon a person believing that their smartphone has been stolen, it allows the smartphone to be located, completely locked, completely erased, or disabled. In some cases, the thief would need to enter in an ID and passcode. All in all, the kill switch is thwarting smartphone crime.

However, not all wireless carriers are crazy about installing a kill switch. The reason? They argue that the kill switch could possibly be exploited by hackers anyways. Once the kill switch is triggered, it’s near impossible to undo. But there is another surly reason why some carriers have pushed back, too. Wireless carriers would “lose money on insurance plans, reactivation of resold phones, and sales of replacement phones” (The battle over a smartphone kill switch,

The fact remains: the kill switch is protecting consumers from smartphone theft.

The latest statistics for the following cities are based on a two-year period running from the start of 2013 to the end of 2014. Take a look.

(Kill switches ‘cut thefts,’

  • San Francisco reported a 40% decrease in iPhone thefts; an overall 27% decline
  • New York reported a 25% drop in iPhone thefts; an overall 16% decline
  • London reported a 40% drop in smartphone thefts

In addition to a kill switch, how can you protect your phone?

The following information comes from CTIA-The Wireless Association, an international nonprofit organization that represents the wireless communications industry since 1984.

  • Be Aware. Know your surroundings and be cognizant of your smartphone use behavior. Similar to your purse or wallet, it’s best to not call attention to your smartphone and create an opportunity for a thief to steal it (e.g., leave it on a restaurant table, allow strangers to “borrow” it for directions, etc.).
    Moreover, realize the “black hole” the smart phone can suck you into, consuming all of your attention and focus. When using your smartphone, multitask – keep your eyes and mind open to your surroundings.
  • Lock It. As soon as you get a new smartphone, set a hard to guess password to protect your device and change it on a regular basis.
  • Add Apps. There are a number of apps available that will remotely track, lock and/or erase personal information on your smartphone. In addition, some apps will remotely trigger an alarm so people know that smartphone is stolen or take a photo of the thief so you can send it to police.
  • Save It (Again). If you have photos, emails, contacts, videos or anything else that you want to make sure is available if your smartphone is ever lost or stolen, save it somewhere else such as a computer, USB drive or cloud service.
  • Insure It. You may want to consider insuring your device through your wireless provider or a third party entity so that if it is lost or stolen, your replacement device is covered

How Phones are Most Commonly Stolen

How Phones are Most Commonly Stolen
(A study by Lookout Mobile Security and IDG Research)

  • 44% were left in a public place
  • 16% were stolen from restaurants
  • 14% were taken from a house or car
  • 11% were stolen from nightclubs
  • 11% were pickpocketed
  • 5% were stolen off the street

IDG Research and Lookout fielded the survey to respondents in the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany. The results are based on 2,403 responses from participants who said they have had their smartphone stolen at some point.
Read more:


Posted in News.
Related Articles