Photo: Mint

What is a kill switch? Is this always a bad idea?

The recent “Uber Files” reveal that the company deployed kill switches, allegedly to destroy sensitive data that could be legitimately accessed by police and officials. But kill switches are also useful tools. We’ll explain how.

What is Uber doing with the kill switches?

The Uber Files investigation shows the company deployed kill switches at least 12 times in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary and Romania as officials began gathering evidence that could have been used to shut down its service. Uber first used the kill switch in late 2014 in Paris, according to the report. A year later, it used the technology again when Belgian authorities wanted to obtain company data on drivers that were based on servers in the US. However, Uber argued that its kill switches “were not designed or implemented to impede fairness” and that the practice was discontinued in 2017.

What exactly does the kill switch do?

The kill switch can disable a particular function or stop a particular process immediately. In the manufacturing sector, they are deployed to end operations to capture damage on assembly lines or to save the lives of workers. They serve a similar purpose in the digital world, but are mostly software-based instead of hardware. In 2014, the kill switch was proposed as a solution to combat smartphone theft in the US. As a result, users worldwide can now remotely wipe their data and render their smartphones unusable if lost or stolen. Even amusement parks and gas stations have switches for obvious reasons.

Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

How easy is it to find a kill switch on the internet?

A switch in a factory or vehicle can simply be a red button to stop operations or turn off the engine. However, a digital kill switch would be harder to detect because it is mostly software-based and only triggered when the user or business is in danger. In addition, hackers insert kill switches into their malware to destroy it remotely so that they are not tracked if they are spotted.

Why do kill switches have a negative ring to them

Countries such as Turkey, Iran, China, India, the US and the UK have been known to block citizens from accessing the internet either completely or in pockets citing national security. They do so simply by ordering Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecommunications companies to block sites or even block access entirely in certain regions. While Egypt, Iran, Turkey and China are well-known examples, India has also shut down internet connectivity in Kashmir and some northeastern states.

But we can’t get rid of kill switches

Hackers delight in breaking into connected devices and networks. Some VPN providers offer a kill switch that automatically disconnects your device from the site if the VPN connection is lost, protecting your privacy. Phone thefts dropped after manufacturers introduced a remote kill switch. They can also remotely disable smart weapons and prevent them from being misused. A 2019 Consumer Watchdog report said every connected car should include an internet kill switch to prevent hackers from controlling them remotely.


I am Sanjit Gupta. I have completed my BMS then MMS both in marketing. I even did a diploma in computer software and Digital Marketing.

Articles: 4717

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