London, Sept. 1: Samsung is planning to install a “kill switch” to disable mobile phones and tablets if they are stolen.
The feature will allow a phone manufacturer or operator to disable a device, even if a thief made efforts to “retrofit” the machine to make it his own.
South Korean authorities have asked the country’s major technology makers, including Samsung and LG, to begin incorporating the function in response to rising gadget thefts.
Users can put in place screen locks and other security mechanisms to stop strangers accessing personal devices. However, once stolen, thieves can “hack” the device to remove these barriers, or replace the mobile SIM card inside the device.
The new kill switch will allow a manufacturer or mobile phone operator to disable the device regardless of such efforts.
In recent times, British and American officials have asked technology groups such as Apple, Nokia and BlackBerry also to incorporate the measure in their devices.
The rise of mobile phone thefts has been mirrored around the world.
Earlier this month, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, joined major cities in the US to demand that technology companies act against “an international epidemic of violent thefts”.
Criminal gangs exploit a global black market. Thousands of phones are smuggled out of Britain to Africa and Asia, where they can be reactivated because local phone companies do not recognise the block on usage applied by networks in Britain.
Despite crime falling in general, theft from the person, such as pickpocketing, is up 17 per cent in London in the past year. Two-thirds of these thefts involve a smartphone. In Manchester, theft from the person is up 11 per cent and in Cheshire 33 per cent.
Samsung, the world’s biggest seller of smartphones, has been asked by local government officials to introduce the kill switch in its devices by the start of next year.
Other companies, such as Korean manufacturer Pantech, have already introduced the disabling function. Its latest phone, the Vega LTE-A, is fitted with additional security features, such as a fingerprint scanner.
Detective chief inspector Bob Mahoney, who heads the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit in the UK, said recently, “It’s a very lucrative area and is attracting a lot of criminals. You’re not very likely to be stopped leaving the country with mobile phones in your suitcase, yet each one is worth hundreds of pounds to a thief. We are seeing the full range of criminal activity at work here, from networks organising thefts en masse to opportunist thieves taking what they can.”
Samsung and LG did not respond to requests for comment.