Kill switch semi-engaged: Android Lollipop gets factory reset password protection

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Android 5.0 Lollipop is offering one more step to discourage thievery by requiring a password before users can factory reset their phones.

The feature is officially called “Factory Reset Protection,” according to Re/code, and lawmakers are celebrating it as a key piece of the smartphone “kill switch” measures they’ve been pushing for.

Android users can already lock, wipe or locate a lost phone remotely using Android Device Manager. But with no protection against unwanted factory resets, a thief could still wipe the phone—provided no lock screen security measure was in place—to make it untraceable. The new feature simply adds one more layer of protection.

It isn’t a totally foolproof solution, however. The Verge reports that Factory Reset Protection is an opt-in feature, so many users likely won’t bother enabling it. It’s also unclear whether a thief with full access to the phone could just factory reset it from recovery mode. Still, Factory Reset Protection may at least deter casual thieves, and along with encryption by default, it’s one more way Android is getting a little more secure.

The story behind the story: Lawmakers have been trying to require “kill switches” in smartphones for over a year now, and California finally passed legislation in August. Apple’s iOS 8 now supports a feature called “Activation Lock” by default, requiring users to enter a password after an iPhone is wiped from a remote location. Meanwhile, Microsoft has promised to add its own kill switch by next summer. In other words, the major smartphone platforms have at least covered their legal bases, even if users aren’t completely protected.

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