What is a kill switch, and why do we need it?

Recent “Uber Files” reveal that the company allegedly deployed a kill switch to destroy sensitive data that could legitimately be accessed by police and officers. But kill switches are also accessories. We explain how.

What is Uber doing with the kill switch?

An investigation into Uber files shows that the company had deployed kill switches at least 12 times in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary and Romania, when officials began collecting evidence that it could be used to shut down its service. could have been done. According to the report, Uber first used the kill switch in Paris in late 2014. A year later, it used the technology again when Belgian officials wanted to obtain company data about drivers residing on servers in the US. However, Uber claimed that its kill switches were “not designed or implemented to obstruct justice” and that the practice was discontinued in 2017.

What does the kill switch actually do?

A kill switch can disable a specific function or stop a certain process immediately. In the construction sector, they are deployed in assembly lines to terminate operations to prevent damage or to save a worker’s life. They serve a similar purpose in the digital world but instead of hardware, they are mostly software based. In 2014, the kill switch was proposed as a solution to combat smartphone theft in the US. As a result, users around the world can now delete their data remotely and render their smartphones useless if lost or stolen. Even amusement parks and petrol pumps have kill switches for obvious reasons.

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Photo: Bloomberg

How easy is it to locate a kill switch on the Internet?

A factory or vehicle may simply have a red button to stop kill switch operation or kill the engine. However, a digital kill switch would be hard to find as it is mostly software-based and only turns on when a user or enterprise is at risk. Furthermore, hackers embed kill switches in their malware so that they can be destroyed remotely so that they cannot be detected.

Why does a kill switch have a negative ring?

Countries such as Turkey, Iran, China, India, the US and the UK have blocked citizens from accessing the Internet either entirely or citing national security. They do this only by mandating internet service providers (ISPs) and telcos that can block sites or even kill access altogether in specific areas. While Egypt, Iran, Turkey and China are well-known examples, India has also shut down internet connections in Kashmir and some north-eastern states.

But we can’t eliminate the kill switch

Hackers are happy to crack connected devices and networks. Some VPN providers offer a kill switch to automatically disconnect your device from the web if you lose your VPN connection, protecting your privacy. Phone thefts decreased after manufacturers introduced the remote kill switch. They can also remotely disable smart weapons and prevent abuse. A 2019 report from Consumer Watchdog states that every connected car should include an Internet kill switch to prevent hackers from controlling them remotely.

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