Qualcomm: Snapdragon chips key to secure smartphone kill switches

The chip maker says its Snapdragon processors are an important element to creating secure methods of rendering mobile devices bricks if stolen.

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Qualcomm says that Snapdragon processors could be used to power up more secure, final ways of rendering smartphones useless if stolen.

Speaking to Re/Code, the US chip maker's senior vice president, Raj Talluri, said there are many benefits to using not only software-based smartphone kill switches, but also implementing hardware options. By doing both, users circumvent the problem of a stolen handset simply being factory reset or flashed with new software to be issued to a new user.

"It’s just a lot more secure," Talluri commented.

As a result, Qualcomm announced on Sunday a range of new mobile-based kill switch solutions, including SafeSwitch. SafeSwitch allows devices to be remotely locked if lost or stolen -- and rather than completely transform the handset into a brick, if recovered, the device can be unlocked. The system is verified by Qualcomm's hardware, rather than being software reliant.

However, remote locking via hardware doesn't have to be the only kill switch solution. In addition, the US chip maker says it is exploring the realm of biometric security, joining the Fast IDentity Online Alliance (FIDO) to develop biometric standards and implement biometrics within mobile security.

In the past few years, pressure has built on smartphone and tablet makers to include a "kill switch" option on mobile devices. The devices, due to their size and lucrative price tags, have become a fixed target for thieves -- especially as there is often no security measure enabled which prevents handsets being used in full after being cleared.

According to mobile security firm Lookout, one in 10 smartphone owners in the United States has experienced device theft.

California has recently signed into law antitheft security features, enabled by default, which must now be present in any handset sold in the US state after 1 July 2015. Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the new legislation requires mobile device makers to include some kind of kill switch on their handsets.

For every handset knowingly sold without these features, a penalty of $500 - $2,500 will be issued.

Qualcomm's offering joins the likes of Apple, which developed the activation lock in iOS 7. Apple's feature requires the user's Apple ID and password before a locked phone can be reactivated. In addition, Samsung phones can be remotely bricked, rendering even a factory reset useless in the case of theft. However, Android-based devices, such as Samsung models, are more difficult to secure -- despite a range of kill switch software available -- due to Android's open-source nature and the variety of devices which use the software.

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