How Smartphone Kill-Switch Laws Affect Data Security

In an effort to curb rising mobile phone theft, lawmakers in several states have passed or proposed new rules that require devices to have remote disabling capabilities. These “kill switches” render a stolen or lost phone useless to anyone except its owner. That means protecting sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.

The legislation, which passed in Minnesota and continues to be debated in California, comes as smartphone theft becomes a growing concern. Americans had 3.1 million smartphones stolen in 2013, up from 1.6 million in 2012, according to Consumer Reports.

For owners, the data on the phone is often more important than the device itself. Whether it’s personal photos or sensitive company information that’s lost, the repercussions can be nasty.

How a switch works

Kill switches exist in many types of technology. At their most basic level, they’re a single command or button that can shut down a system almost immediately. “Hard” kill switches do permanent damage—severing wires, for instance—while “soft” ones are reversible. The cell phone laws call for the latter, meaning that if a phone is recovered, its owner could salvage data that previously was in jeopardy.

Saving face with a switch

For employees who increasingly work on-the-go, it’s not unheard of to leave a company Blackberry on the subway. If the phone contains financial information, clientele or trade secrets, loss of that data could damage the company’s goodwill, and ultimately, the bottom line.

“If we end up on the front of the Fresno Bee because an attorney left his phone at the bar…the damage to your reputation could literally be millions of dollars,” CIO Darin Adcock at California-based law firm Dowling Aaron, told CIO.com.

The Minnesota and California laws call for all devices sold after July 1, 2015 to have the switch turned on by default.

h/t: Chief Mobility Officer

[Image via CanStock]