back to article WhisperSystems creates 'suicide pill' for phones

The developers who jumped in early in the “Arab Spring” to create an encrypted communications app for Android have now gone a step further, crafting a geofenced self-destruct that can wipe a phone based on location.'s Zones app, which isn't yet ready for prime time but should be released to Google Play soon …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Automatic Google account backups make this useless

    Instead of torturing you to get them to give up your phone password, they torture you to give up your Google account password. Same applies to an iPhone with an iCloud password.

    Sure, you could have a second innocuous account you give them, but if they know you have a known association through other means (such as having already gotten into someone else's call/text history and know you've contacted them) they'll see through this quickly and torture you even more.

    You simply can't have any backups if you want to adopt this strategy. Surely if you're in a repressive regime losing your contact list is the least of your problems if you're taken in by the authorities? Though perhaps better than wiping your phone would be a controlled wipe that deletes certain information but leaves other information intact. A freshly factory reset phone is going to be treated with suspicion by the type of people who consider rubber hoses a warmup for the real interrogation.

    While alerting your family/friends what happened to you is a very good idea, using SMS for that alert is a terrible idea. Repressive regimes tend to own or control the telecom infrastructure, so that text message just gives authorities a way to find out who the important people are in your life and their phone number. Good luck trying to give them a fake name if your phone alerts your mother, your two sisters and your wife. Better to send some sort of encrypted message through a service that isn't under the control of the regime, and where the list of addressees can't be seen by the authorities.

    If you must use SMS, it should be to some out of country number that receives a code word/phrase that is automatically translated by the computer receiving it into a separate SMS to those you designate to prevent the government from identifying them quite so easily. And only works once, so the authorities can't keep texting it and figuring out which numbers in their country receive messages every time they do.

    1. frank ly

      Re: Automatic Google account backups make this useless

      You're right in that 'full system security' is required, and that is impossible since other people control and have access to the other parts of the 'system'.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A weapon

      A weapon for Governments to use against protests.

    3. Craig 28

      Re: Automatic Google account backups make this useless

      I'd personally be more concerned about the local authorities receiving the information from Google themselves than torturing the password out of the user. That said I could see something like this being helpful for aid workers, sending an SMS automatically if they were taken prisoner by a terrorist group in some backwater country to be used as hostages as is the risk of such work.

  2. drewsup

    what i want

    Is a program that disables the li/ion battery protection circuit, turning my lovely purloined phone into a flaming ball of death, hopefully in some miscreants pocket!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Something more for the arresting team to look out for.

    When they arrest suspected terrorists, they will slap their phone in a shielded box with a femto cell, set to fake the local cell tower, and a GPS location faker so they can take it somewhere safe and check out the contents.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Something more for the arresting team to look out for.

      They'd like to, but I doubt they have the money required to develop something like that and deploy large numbers of them to the police.

      That's more something an advanced intelligence agency like the CIA or the Russian and Chinese equivalents would use for special targets, not places like Syria trying to crack down on thousands upon thousands of people.

      1. Anomalous Cowturd
        Black Helicopters


        Ah, but every police station has a biscuit tin...

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