How the “Kill Switch” Helps Mobile Security for Businesses

How the “Kill Switch” Helps Mobile Security for Businesses
February 12, 2015 Jessica Oaks

Whether you’re a business owner or a decision maker within your organization, you’ve likely seen the impact that mobile devices have on the workplace. To put it bluntly, mobile devices are becoming prolific. And the numbers point to these devices becoming even more important for day-to-day affairs in the future. If your organization is like many others, it has either wholly adopted or quietly and begrudgingly accepted a BYOD (bring your own device) policy in response to the popularity of smartphones, laptops and tablets. Though the benefits of such a policy are many, it isn’t without risk.

What many businesses that adopt a BYOD policy fail to appreciate is the need for a mobile security plan. As mobile devices become increasingly important in the workplace – smartphones and tablets can be used for everything from checking emails to accepting mobile payments – they will increasingly become the target of individuals looking to gain access to proprietary information. Whether this comes as a result of a random hacking initiative or concentrated attack (or simply thieves) is, ultimately, inconsequential; what is important is ensuring measures are in place to help safeguard against such attacks. One measure that has gained traction over the last 12 months is the inclusion of so-called “kill switches.” Will this approach pave the way for mobile security moving forward?

What is a Mobile Device “Kill Switch?”

Perhaps the biggest take-away from this discussion should be this: a kill switch shouldn’t be your only line of defense when it comes to mobile security. After all, a kill switch is a reactive step, and it is important to be proactive in your fight against security threats. Is your information password protected? Does your team follow best practices when it comes to protecting data? These simple steps can help prevent you or your team from ever having to activate a kill switch in the first place. That being said, better something than nothing, right? That something is the kill switch.

So what is a kill switch? Well, just as a kill switch on a car shuts the engine off with the simple push of a button, kill switch software shuts down a device. By doing so, it can protect your data, personal information, and even identity. The device can then be restarted, and recovered, with a software refresh or third-party application. That’s the kill switch in a nutshell. Qualcomm has taken this idea one step further, however, with its new Snapdragon 810 processor.

What makes Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon processor unique is that the kill switch (or SafeSwitch, as Qualcomm calls is) is hardwired, rather than existing “in the ether,” so to speak, as software. This enables lost or stolen phones to be permanently wiped, remotely, if desired – in such cases, no refresh or reboot is possible, helping protect valuable data from getting into the wrong (and often quite capable) hands. And yet, Qualcomm also promises that if a stolen device that has been wiped is recovered, it is still possible to undo the damage. However, as this would have to be done at the processor level, some safeguards must be in place – as for now, Qualcomm isn’t divulging every last detail of its new Snapdragon 810 chip!

The kill switch, then, is that ultimate last-ditch solution. If your device is stolen or compromised, it’s better to have it than not.

But is the Kill Switch the Solution You’ve Been Seeking?

With some states enacting laws that make kill switches a mandatory feature on new mobile devices, there should be little doubt as to the staying power of this feature. Smartphones and tablets are the future of computing, and in turn, the future of business – though kill switches should only be used as a last resort, the benefits of such a feature are clear in the unfortunate scenario your business is forced to use one. Think of your options: would you rather use a kill switch, knowing that the data on the affected devices may be permanently lost, or would you prefer that stolen or compromised devices containing vital and sensitive information be unprotected? When faced with such black-and-white options, it becomes clear just how important a role kill switches will play in mobile security going forward. Is it a perfect solution for mobile security? Perhaps not, but we are on-board.

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