Most of our cell phones have been using a protection method that disables the stolen device by being wiped out. This protection has reduced the number of phone related thefts dramatically, as the thieves are no longer able to resell the locked device. Until now, this protection method has only been available to phones, leaving laptops unsecured.
Last month, Microsoft announced always-connected PCs, which will have cellular connectivity and will bring this protection method to laptops. A new Microsoft patent has surfaced online which suggests that users will not even need a cellular subscription to protect their device.
The patent suggests making use of the same "emergency call" technology which allows the users to make emergency phone calls to specific numbers even without a SIM. Using that as a protection measure means allowing the transmission of a signal to disable the device even with its cellular connectivity turned off or SIM removed. A brief summary of the patent is given below:
At least some embodiments described herein relate to the restricted use of a cellular network to facilitate disablement of a device that is suspected lost or stolen. Accordingly, even if the device is not capable of general use of the cellular network (e.g., due to a physical authentication module, such as a subscriber identity module, being absent and/or due to a software restriction on cellular network access), disablement communications are still permitted across the cellular network. Accordingly, the device may receive a disable command from the disablement service over the cellular network, and acknowledge processing of the disable command to the disablement service also over the cellular network. Thus, efforts by an unauthorized possessor of the device to prevent disablement by removing the physical authentication module are thwarted. Likewise, turning the cellular service off using software settings at the device also does not prevent the device from being disabled via cellular network communication.
Implementing this patent may improve the protection of our devices, but it also seems to have a downside too, which is that users could be easily tracked down even when they are not connected to any cellular network. It is to be seen what impact this could have on protection and users if it gets implemented.