19
Jun
largeWSS0S-D0

Both PCWorld and Bloomberg are reporting today that Google is on the record as saying the next version of Android will contain an anti-theft "kill switch," or as Google calls it, a "factory reset protection solution." Smartphones are among the most commonly stolen possessions in the world today, presumably because of their small size and high value. With increasing pressure from governments to incorporate built-in countermeasures to deter theft by rendering a user's smartphone inoperable in the event it is lost or stolen, expanding the existing Android Device Manager's features to include a reset-proof lockout only makes sense.

ADM was released late last year on the Play Store by Google, and included features like a phone finder, wiping utility, and a phone lock tool. Absent, though, was a method to both erase and lock a device until it was returned to the owner. Obviously, such a low-level operation would probably require changes to secure portions of the firmware, something an app isn't going to be able to do by itself.

It's not clear what "the next version of Android" means, exactly, but we can probably assume that it's going to be the next major release, and that the feature will be exclusive to devices running that release or higher. Integration with the existing ADM tool, too, seems very likely.

Will we be hearing about such a feature at Google I/O next week? All signs point to Google holding off on a major Android release for the time being, though we could get a significant taste of what's to come at the conference, and this could be among the feature demos. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

PCWorld, Bloomberg

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • rmkilc

    Probably this won't work with an unlocked bootloader.

    • mobilemann

      i'm worried it will kill unlocked bootloaders.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/doomstang Doomstang

      Yeah I can't see how having access to "protected" areas will keep this feature secure. I hope this doesn't mean a crackdown on unlocking bootloaders.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

        It will probably just mean you're on your own if someone steals your phone and knows how to ADB and flash a new bootloader.

        Chance a thief knows how to flash a new bootloader? Pretty low.

        Chance a thief knows to factory reset an Android phone? High.

        No one can expect Google to protect people who explicitly go out of their way to un-secure their devices. That's ridiculous. As for unlocking itself, I'm guessing this will preempt an attempt to unlock a phone that has had the "kill" switch hit. If you don't re-lock your bootloader, you're already pretty clearly not concerned about security.

        • Jack March

          Some thief's may learn this stuff though, if they have an expensive phone that they've stolen lying there doing nothing because of anti theft they could make good cash out of it by simply learning a few commands via Google.

          • Mike Reid

            Yes.

            They learn, or have a guy do it for them for $10-20.

          • Brad

            it'd have to be rooted to begin with, though

        • rmkilc

          Good point. I just hope this doesn't lead into the pains of selling used devices like it is on iPhones. People forget to disconnect their iCloud device and sell you the phone, and you can't wipe it.

        • Sergii Pylypenko

          In our local flea market the local 'specialists' factory reset locked / stolen phones like a finger snap. They even have JTAGs to change phone IMEI, so it won't show as stolen in the mobile operators database, I don't know about resetting the kill switch though.

          Just a few years ago that flea market was a go-to place for electronics hobbyists, now it is mainly selling stolen phones and replacement parts for ancient PCs.

        • http://trapchan.blogspot.com trapchan

          If Apple can do it, why Google can't ???

          • mobilemann

            um, apple has full control over software and hardware and way way fewer models based on their own chipset?

            that's like a barrel full of reasons.

        • Sky

          shhh the potential thief could be in here right now doing some recon on rooting and bootloader unlocking..

    • Cody Curry

      That's fine. I'd rather implement my own killswitch than have one that can be targeted maliciously.

  • silver_arrow

    I wonder how this would work for custom roms.

    • Kylecore

      It won't.

      • mateor

        I don't know, I bet it will.

  • Andrew

    This just makes it even easier for dirtbags to buy a phone, sell it to someone on cl or eBay and then render it useless to the buyer.

    • TheFirstUniverseKing

      I guess someone could do that, but what benefit would it be to the "dirtbag"? He wouldn't get the phone back unless the buyer sent it back, and the buyer would likely ask for a refund or else keep the phone. So it just seems like a dick move in general. But I guess there are people out there who like to be mean for the sake of being mean.

      • Andrew

        Yeah, it happens now too. People sell a phone and then call their phone company who then blacklist the device..

        • TheFirstUniverseKing

          Wow, that's awful.

        • kashtrey

          IDK. I'm sure that happens but it's probably most likely that many of these phones are stolen, resold by the thief, and then they are disabled by the original owner. I doubt there's a high population of people just screwing others over for no real reason.

          • magnafunk

            They probably sell, then report as stolen to claim insurance

          • CodeMonkey

            Yep, happened to me years ago with the original G1. eBay and PayPal were useless, took me 6 months of hassling the guy and (finally) the intervention of a Thames Valley police detective to get my money back.
            I don't buy phones on eBay any more.

    • Armando Rodriguez

      The same thing can be said about the Apple solution for anti theft.

    • Ashish

      Not true, once the device is factory rest you're clean. This is exactly how the apple solution works. The kill switch prevents a factory reset till the user goes in and turnes off "find my iPhone"

      • Andrew

        Ummm.... No. Factory reset does not fix the phone companies from blocking your imei number.

        • Ashish

          Phone companies is out of the picture from this discussion. That issue will always happen with or without a kill switch.

      • 80hd

        Why are you assuming that you know how this thing will work and that Android won't have a deeply integrated "call home" function that checks for blacklisted IMEIs?

      • Randroid

        What do you mean "You're clean?" If you're saying that the phone can be used after a factory reset, you're wrong.

        For my last job, I wiped an iPhone that belonged to an employee that left the company. I wiped it via the iOS recovery mode, since I didn't have his unlock code for the phone. When it booted back up. I couldn't use the phone unless I put in the former employee's Apple ID. I'm sure there's a way around this with a corporate server-based wipe, but there is a way for a stolen phone to be wiped, and a consumer level wipe will still render the phone useless.

    • 80hd

      Every second-hand phone sale in two years:
      "got the account password?"
      "no"
      "no thanks then"

      It's not hard. People make it seem as if this will cause problems exactly the way that it doesn't on iOS.

      I have no idea why people find this outrageous.

      • Andrew

        I don't remember saying a dagum thing about iOS or Apple. This conversation is not about them. And while your little dialogue may be pretty straight forward, there are plenty of sensible people that have had this happened to them without even thinking that people can be such dirtbags.

        • 80hd

          You're trying to tell me that this feature is hypothetically a bad idea despite the real-world example that Apple has built, which is working quite well.

          Lots of people have had phone theft happen to them too. It sounds like your argument is that change is bad because people will go through a period of learning how to make sure that a sale is legit. Apparently it's not worth the trouble because new ideas are hard.

          Anything that teaches people to not support thieves and scammers is a good thing IMO.

    • mateor

      If it makes the market for stolen goods less robust, that is a win for consumers. The secondary market, as it currently operates, is largely trafficking stolen goods.

      What you are bemoaning is the fact that buying stolen goods will get riskier.

  • Arthur Jolivet

    I've never understand why installing ADM on his phone (apart on a device which never would be stolen )because if a person steal the phone with ADM we can't use it and worst : if the device is not locked and we have other devices on ADM, the robber can erase or lock other devices

    • Imparus

      Then make sure that you have set ADM to require password each time you use it, which it is as default.

      • Alexei Watson

        This, make sure it always asks for a password.

        The original release of ADM didn't need a password, and as such I uninstalled it.

    • Sir Perro

      What I really struggle to understand is how people can be so stupid as to have the phone unlocked without any kind of password, pin or lock pattern.

      Usually a thief will wipe the device and sell it in a flea market, but if the thief really wants to, he can ruin your life with so many personal details.

      If I were google I'd FORCE at least an unlock pattern, and FORCE the use of ADM with the new kill switch. People would get used to it, and everybody would be happy. Except from the thiefs, obviously.

      • DanSan

        for some people the phone never leaves their sight.

  • Tony Byatt

    I/O is going to be quite a conference...

    • Damian

      As a conference fanboy I can say that WWDC was good, but I/O is going to be big.

      • ThomasMoneyhon

        Well of course. Apple can't hold a candle to google because Google is changing the world. Quantum computers, glucose monitoring contacts, glass, self driving cars, while apple figures out how to buy beats to aquire a music service they couldn't build on their own, and their watch is going to show later than android wear and not be as functional. Google had their streaming music service finished a while ago.

        • RarestName

          k.

          • A Skylit [S]unjΔy

            l.

          • RarestName

            Jay.

        • Roh_Mish

          What surprices me is that apple has had a music store for a long while and are in that business for more than 10 years. But they took more time to get a good radio service to consumers than Google which went from nowhere to allaccess in about a couple of years.

  • http://www.scaryuncledevin.com/ Devin Rodriguez

    Any app that is baked into the system (or using su) is able to do thing like flash other partitions, including the bootloader. If bootloaders on phones started coming with the ability to password protect them, simply by setting a passcode on your device directly or remotely, it would go a long way into truly securing the device. If the bootloader passcode had already been set prior to the device being stolen/lost, it wouldn't even have to get back online to prevent intrusion or wiping.

    • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

      But what if there is a new boot loader flashed instead of password protected one via command prompt - it literally makes no difference

      • http://www.scaryuncledevin.com/ Devin Rodriguez

        If the bootloader was locked and didn't allow flashing, how would you go about flashing a new bootloader? ODIN is an option, so I suppose they would have to password lock that too. After that the thieves would have to get hardware level, and if they get that into it, they can have my phone at that point.

        • Raheemuddin Syed

          Can the thief can change the IMEI if even bootloader is locked?

  • Stanley C.

    So the next build will be Kill Kat? LMFAO!

  • Alexander Gee

    As someone who has had a device stolen recently anything that deters thieves from seeing them as easy money is great.

  • Kylecore

    Must be what the 4.4.4 version they rolled out today is for :P

  • dontsh00tmesanta

    Bout time

  • Alessandro

    "Will we be hearing about such a feature at Google I/O next week? All signs point to Google holding off on a major Android release for the time being" :( But does that means no nexus 9 then? Nexus devices have always come with a new version of android.

    • Simon Belmont

      Nexus 9? You mean the rumored HTC-made Nexus 8?

      I'm pretty certain there's no doubt that there will be an update to Android showcased at I/O next week. We just don't know if it'll be a minor bump like basically Android 4.1 - 4.4 has been, or something big like the shift from Android 2.3 to Android 4.0 was.

      • Alessandro

        Sorry yes, the nexus 8, but okay thanks I got worried for a second. If they dont announce the big update next week, then most likely we'll be waiting until october/november and the big L release will probably launch on android silver, instead of nexus devices.

        • Simon Belmont

          It's possible that we'll just see another iteration of KitKat, but I have a feeling it'll be the L release next week. Of course, that doesn't mean that it will be a BIG update (I'm talking Android 5.0 level update).

          The L release could very well be Android 4.5, too. Google is funny like that. I'm hoping for a big update, myself. We'll soon know.

          • Alessandro

            quantum, polymer, changes to the home screen, notifications, moonshine icons, project hera, play fitness, android wear, android tv, now this security stuff, WAYY too many changes to be 4.5, its literally a new android

          • kashtrey

            Those are big changes but those aren't all necessarily ready to ship with the IO release. They very well could be shown off at IO as the future of Android and a more minor 4.5 release could be released that just lays the groundwork for these features.

          • David

            And as far as I know they even posted screenshots with the time showing 5 o' clock, which is generally an indicative of the version number in the next version they're teasing.

  • Simon Belmont

    "All signs point to Google holding off on a major Android release for the time being." What signs?

    From what I've read it seems like the next release could be pretty big. I guess it's possible a 5.x level release could be held off until the fall, though, so we'll just have to wait less than a week to find out.

  • dilharo

    Polymer will be the Ruling Topic

  • dilharo

    mixing webcomponents to android ui

  • http://trapchan.blogspot.com trapchan

    finally it will catch up with iOS.

  • http://www.Nave360.com Sebastian Gorgon

    If my phone is stolen I'd rather have something built in to stop access to bootloader and recovery as well as no USB MTP. I can do a lot of stuff with Cerberus but if the thief is experienced with Android then it's piss easy to bypass.

  • Zach Mauch

    Not "All signs" are pointing toward holding off on a release. That world cup photo that google put out with "5:00" as the time on the screen DEFINITELY hints at 5.0 dropping soon. The unaware will think this is stupid. However, if you have paid attention you will know that google is infamous for doing things like this. It was VERY specific and very much the type of easter egg that google would drop.

    If someone gave me some decent odds (like say 5 to 1) I would probably drop a couple bills on a 5.0 release at I/O.

  • momentai

    I'm a little confused. Isn't there something in Android that does this already? https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager

  • nezlobnyj

    been waiting this since Apple introduced it's own anti-theft solution. a bit of disappointed with my Nexy I was that day...

  • mateor

    We knew almost nothing about Jellybean when it dropped at I/O. The leaks about 5.0 are coming fast and regular. You guys are usually right, but I feel like we will see 5.0 next week.

  • http://liveinalux.com/ mankulito

    thank god.