Experts to Test Remote Disable Features for iPhone, Galaxy S4

July 18, 2013 Updated: July 18, 2013

NEW YORK—With 30 to 40 percent of all robberies nationwide involving smartphones, lawmakers are taking the next step in an initiative aimed at stemming the epidemic. On July 18, state and federal security experts will test security features that can remotely disable the Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphones when they are lost or stolen.

Officials from New York and San Francisco have called on smartphone makers to create a kill switch feature that would remotely disable phones permanently. The features to be tested are not exactly kill switches, since it is possible to re-activate the phones in case they are recovered by rightful owners.

The field test is meant to see if the remote-lock features could be circumvented by tech-savvy thieves. Experts, including representatives from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) will be given locked phones and attempt to bypass features.

The iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4 already have features that enable device owners to disable them remotely: “Activation Lock” on the iPhone 5 and “Lojack for Android” on the Galaxy S4. Both features can be used to lock a phone remotely and the Lojack app can also enable a security team to recover the phone. 

“While we are appreciative of the efforts made by Apple and Samsung to improve security of the devices they sell, we are not going to take them at their word,” said Eric Schneiderman, New York State attorney general. “Today we will assess the solutions they are proposing and see if they stand up to the tactics commonly employed by thieves.”

Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon formed the Secure Our Smartphones initiative on June 14, 2013, in response to the soaring rate of smartphones thefts. In New York City, while other types of crime continue to decline, the number of smartphone robberies increased by 40 percent in 2012 from the previous year.

Consumers paid $30 billion in replacement costs for stolen smartphones last year, according to the attorney general’s office. In the United States, 113 smartphones are stolen per minute.

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