Why iOS 7’s Kill Switch Won’t Take A Bite Out Of iCrime

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Used with permission, thanks to Caprisco on Morguefile.com
Thanks to Caprisco on Morguefile.com

This article first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine.

Apple devices are on the most wanted list for thieves who snatch smartphones and tablets out of the hands of distracted commuters in big cities.

This type of theft is so easy and generally without consequence that it’s become known as “Apple picking.” The Cupertino company has been on the forefront of trying to curb these crimes, dating back to the Find My iPhone app in 2010 and the new Touch ID fingerprint sensor for the iPhone 5s.  Apple has also added a new i0S 7 feature called Activation Lock, which many are dubbing the “kill switch.”

“As a consumer, I love the idea of a kill switch for the device that I, as the owner, can invoke, but giving that type of power to my carrier is another thing.”

In doing so, Apple has responded to further pressure from authorities who are inundated with cases involving iPhone and iPad crime. (See our investigation into lost and stolen iPhones on Craigslist for more.) But prosecutors in New York and San Francisco, where about half of all crimes involve smartphones, were initially lukewarm on the feature but say they are now optimistic after seeing it in action.

The industry insiders Cult of Mac sounded out, not so much.

“To really make this work, the ‘kill switch’ would need to be wired to carrier networks, so that as soon as the device’s IMEI shows up on the network, the device is disabled by the carrier,” said Tom Kemp, CEO of Centrify, a company that provides unified identity services across data center, cloud and mobile for businesses. “As a consumer, I love the idea of a kill switch for the device that I, as the owner, can invoke, but giving that type of power to my carrier is another thing.”

As smartphone use grows — nearly half of Americans own one — so has iCrime. According to recent comScore data, Apple owns almost 40 percent of the smartphone market, more than its next closest competitors Samsung and HTC combined, with 23 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively. But part and parcel with Apple’s success and their distinctive design aesthetic is the fact that Apple products are an easy targets for a quick snatch-and-resell.

“How much would mugging decrease if your wallet was worth $0? Essentially, that’s what Apple is doing with its new kill switch feature – making your smartphone worthless, ideally. But, who is it really worthless for in the end?” said David Anderson, director of product for smartphone insurance company ProtectYourBubble. “Smartphone thieves often resell stolen devices on the secondary market…Unknowing consumers will purchase devices from sites like eBay and Amazon to cut costs but (will) end up receiving a ‘killed’ device in the mail.”

Craig Ferenghi introduces iOS 7's new "kill switch" during the WWDC keynote.
Craig Ferenghi introduces iOS 7’s new “kill switch” during the WWDC keynote.

Companies that survive on tracing stolen gadgets are also not worried that the kill switch will sound the death knell for their businesses. “Unfortunately for consumers, Apple’s tracking and other anti-theft measures are also fairly easy to disable. People are going to continue to steal iPhones and hackers will find a way around the kill switch. It can be as simple as jailbreaking the phone,” said Ken Westin, founder of GadgetTrak. Most of GadgetTrak’s customers are tracing Apple devices — check out the live map — and use of the service has led to a few spectacular recoveries like this one from Kansas to Mexico.

Which brings up another point: whether Apple should be partnering with authorities rather than potentially enabling users to pursue their stolen iPhones

Maybe Apple should be partnering with authorities rather than enabling their customers to pursue their stolen iPhones.

Absolute Software, which says it has recovered 29,000 devices in 100 countries to date, recently launched a partnership with Samsung and says one with Apple is very possible. They work with police and discourage people from trying to get their gadgets back, rogue style.

“Deactivating a device with Activation Lock so that an unauthorized user is unable to use it or sell it can have a positive impact on deterring theft. However, the value of this capability is limited and could lead to encouragement of owners trying to recover devices from thieves themselves,” said Ward Clapham, vice president of recovery services at Absolute. “Self-recovery can be dangerous – even fatal. The best case scenario is for the user to rely on trained professionals to work with law enforcement to recover the device and pursue any criminal charges that may result.”

iPhone users who keep their smartphones mute in their pockets out of fear may find the new service makes it once again OK to stumble down a crowded sidewalk while checking email.

The iWatch might be a really popular theft target.

“With the kill switch, you will no longer feel unsafe using your iPhone on a city street. The kill switch makes the iPhone a much less desirable target for thieves — they’ll have to go back to nicking gold watches and fancy handbags,” says Dave Howell, founder and CEO of Avatron Software, which makes a number of productivity apps. “With this feature, Apple is responding to rising iPhone theft rates, but the company may also been preparing for the launch of the iWatch. The iWatch might be a really popular theft target. The kill switch is a neat, thoughtful feature but it won’t move the market-share needle.”

Howell, a former Apple software engineering manager whose team includes a number of veteran Mac programmers, says he doesn’t have any inside knowledge about the kill switch but that the service fits into Apple’s general ethos.

“I know Apple’s been working hard for some years to make iPhone as safe as possible…Apple has always garnered a reputation for designing for the benefit of users, even when it hurts sales. Certainly preventing theft will put a dent in replacement iPhone revenues.”

This article first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine.

Why Window 8 Tablets Will Lose To The iPad In Education [Feature]

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Microsoft may try to challenge the iPad's place in the classroom, but time isn't on its side
Microsoft may try to challenge the iPad's place in the classroom, but time isn't on its side

The iPad became a big hit in the K-12 education market over the past year. Pioneering schools that brought Apple’s tablet into the classroom last school year proved that the iPad can be a excellent learning tool – one that has immense power to transform education.

As the new school year begins, and hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S. become iPad users thanks to one-to-one iPad deployments, there’s already talk that the iPad’s success in schools will be short-lived. The belief is that iPads will quickly be replaced by tablets running Microsoft’s Windows RT or Windows 8.

That assumption is absurd and delusional.

Enterprise Device Alliance Announces Mountain Lion Support

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The enterprise integration vendors of the Enterprise Device Alliance have announced universal support for Mountain Lion.
The enterprise integration vendors of the Enterprise Device Alliance have announced universal support for Mountain Lion.

The member companies that make up the Enterprise Device Alliance announced earlier this week that all of their products have either been updated already with support for Mountain Lion or will be within a few weeks.

The Enterprise Device alliance is a consortium of companies focused on integration Apple technologies in the business and enterprise environments. The solutions offered by those member companies include Active Directory integration, Mac and iOS device management, advanced file and print integration options, mobile backup, Windows virtualization, and help desk operations.

These Mac Utilities And Enterprise Tools Are Ready To Roll With Mountain Lion

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Some Mac security and Mac management tools already support Mountain Lion, but there are many that haven't gotten their yet.
Some Mac security and Mac management tools already support Mountain Lion, but there are many that haven't gotten their yet.

Many Mountain Lion apps will function normally under Mountain Lion, but many won’t. Of particuar concern are the various utilities that help keep Mac systems secure, scan for viruses and malware, integrate with enterprise systems in businesses and schools, and dianose and repair problems.

These tools often require much deeper integration with OS X than other apps. That means that developers need to ensure they function as intended and don’t damage any documents, files, OS X system components, or other apps. That can sometimes delay releases of key utilities.

Here’s a list of Mac utilities and enterprise tools that have confirmed Mountain Lion Compatibility

Enterprise Device Alliance (A Mac And iOS IT Resources Group) Gain Members And Expands Services

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Enterprise Device Alliance adds new members, in-person events
Enterprise Device Alliance adds new members, in-person events.

This week, the Enterprise Device Alliance announced its newest member – London-based Trams. The Enterprise Device Alliance (a.k.a. EDA) is a non-profit group that provides resources to companies and organizations looking to integrate Apple technologies into predominantly Windows-based environments.

Trams is an IT solutions vendor and consulting company that provides services to customers in the UK, Ireland, and Northern Europe.

The company is the fourth new member to join the EDA since the beginning of this year (and the second technology integrator to join this year). The company will help the EDA expand the resources available to UK and European IT departments integrating Macs, iPhones, and iPads into their organizations – starting with a luncheon for IT professionals, to be conducted on June 19 at the Soho Hotel.