Qualcomm puts a kill switch in a mobile CPU

The high-end Snapdragon 810 will debut later this year in a number of devices.

One of the biggest problems with smartphones is people's tendency to lose them, and in the case of a business phone, that could be bad news. It means sensitive material loose for anyone who finds it.

The most common solution has been a remote wipe, which Blackberry has had for a while and Apple and Samsung have recently introduced. These have all been software solutions, and it's possible to bypass them, if you are a very smart and determined thief.

Well, Qualcomm is getting into the security game by adding its hardware-based SafeSwitch solution, introduced last September, in the forthcoming Snapdragon 810, a chip that is expected to be found in many high-end mobile devices this year. The 810 is a 64-bit, 8-core processor that supports DDR4 and 802.11ac wireless networking.

SafeSwitch works with any operating system, and since it's in silicon, it can run at the system level without having to boot an OS, it can can block someone who has acquired the phone from reinstalling a new OS and simply using the phone for themself. Qualcomm said it's designed to "protect firmware, resist chip replacement, and to lock down critical device components."

Apple will likely design its own version of chip-level locking, since it's sure not going to license Snapdragon chips when it has its own processor. Google will likely focus on adding support for SafeSwitch to Android, but it can't abandon its own efforts since not every Android phone will use the Snapdragon 810.

Microsoft has no kill switch in its OS at all, so it could benefit the most. The high-end Lumias could adopt SafeSwitch and all Microsoft need do is add software support for it rather than reinvent the wheel. Microsoft is likely going to announce Windows Phone 10 on January 21 along with taking the wraps off Windows 10, so news may come then.

Qualcomm still has not released all of the info on the SafeSwitch spec and the 810 chip is expected in a few months, so there is still more to be learned and we won't be getting a phone with it immediately.

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