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Stick it to phone thieves: you can now remotely brick your phone

AOSP now supports the ability to remotely brick a device through recovery if it has been stolen, rendering it unbootable by any would-be thieves.

Published onJune 6, 2016

Lost Android phone

When it comes to a lost or stolen phone there are a few things you can do: use Android Device Manager to locate or remotely wipe it; install an app to take a photo of anyone trying to unlock it; or even blacklist your phone’s IMEI. But the Android Open Source Project has just added another option: allowing you to remotely brick your phone, rendering it unbootable for whoever ends up with it.

On Friday, Change 235361 was merged into AOSP with a very simple role: to add support to brick a device. The change allows manufacturers to define partitions that can be remotely wiped, but it also gives you the power to brick your device via recovery, making it useless to anyone that stole or found it. Exactly how the change might get implemented in Android is currently unknown.

android recovery

It’s a pretty serious step and one that won’t help much if you end up finding your phone down the back of the sofa a week later. But if you know you’re definitely not getting your phone back then it is a pretty viable option for shutting down any potential re-sale value.

Remote bricking could also help stop criminals from accessing personal information and account details, especially if it is implemented in such a way that allows the original owner to unbrick it if the device finds its way home.

It is unclear at this point if Google plans to make this a user-facing feature of Android Device Manager in future or even if it will include it in future Android versions. When it comes to Android security though, any additional failsafes are welcome, even when they’re a full-blown nuclear option like this.

Have you ever lost a phone? What did you do?

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