What is a kill switch? Is it always a bad idea?

A recent “Uber profile” revealed that the company implemented a kill switch, with the aim of destroying sensitive data that police and officials may have legitimately accessed. But the kill switch is also a useful tool. We explain how.

What is Uber doing with the kill switch?

The Uber Files investigation found that the company deployed the breaker at least 12 times in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary and Romania when officials began gathering evidence that it may have been used. to close their service. According to the report, Uber first used the breaker in late 2014 in Paris. A year later, it used the technology again when Belgian authorities wanted to obtain company data about drivers residing on servers in the US. However, Uber claims its kill switches were “not designed or implemented to obstruct justice” and the practice was discontinued in 2017.

What exactly does the kill switch do?

A kill switch can disable a specific function or stop a certain process immediately. In the manufacturing sector, they are deployed to shut down operations to prevent damage in the assembly line or save the lives of workers. They serve a similar purpose in the digital world but instead of hardware, they are primarily software-based. In 2014, a kill switch was proposed as a solution to combat smartphone theft in the US. As a result, users worldwide can now remotely erase their data and render their smartphones useless if lost or stolen. Even amusement parks and gas stations have breaker switches for obvious reasons.

Photo: Bloomberg

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Photo: Bloomberg

How easy is it to detect a kill switch on the internet?

A kill switch in a factory or vehicle can be as simple as a red button to stop the operation or turn off the engine. However, it is more difficult to detect a digital kill switch as it is primarily software-based and is only activated when a user or business is in danger. Besides, hackers embed kill switches in their malware to destroy them remotely to avoid being traced if they are detected.

Why does the kill switch have a negative ring

Countries like Turkey, Iran, China, India, the US and the UK are known to have completely blocked citizens from accessing the internet or for national security reasons. They do so by simply asking internet service providers (ISPs) and telcos that can block websites or even completely kill access in specific areas. While Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and China are well-known examples, India has also shut down internet connections in Kashmir and some northeastern states.

But we can’t get rid of the kill switch

Hackers delight in cracking connected devices and networks. Some VPN providers offer a kill switch to automatically disconnect your device from the web in the event you lose your VPN connection, protecting your privacy. Phone theft dropped after manufacturers introduced remote kill switches. They can also remotely disable smart weapons and prevent misuse. Consumer Watchdog’s 2019 report says every connected car should include an Internet disconnect switch to prevent hackers from remotely controlling them.

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