New Microsoft patent means laptop thieves can run but not hide

When Apple included reset protection in their anti-theft technology on the iPhone there was a dramatic reduction in the number of muggings related to the device, as thieves were no longer reliably able to resell the handsets.

So successful was the feature that it was eventually mandated for all smartphone OEMs and it is now a standard feature of most mobile operating systems.

Unfortunately, this protection has not extended to our laptops, who remain vulnerable to being wiped by thieves and then being resold with minimal risk of being caught.

The coming revolution with always-connected cellular laptops, however, promise that Windows users will soon benefit from the same technology, and a new Microsoft patent suggests that users would not even need to sign up to a cellular subscription plan to be protected.

The patent suggests that signals to lock a PC and disable wiping the device may still be transmitted to a stolen laptop even when it would not normally be able to connect to a cellular network, such as when a SIM has been removed or cellular connectivity has been switched off by the OS, in a similar way to users still being able to make emergency phone calls even when their phone has no SIM.

The patent notes:

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.

Such a feature would presumably require some agreement between Microsoft and a cellular service provider, but would likely otherwise not require any further intervention from a user.

The flip side of this patent, if it does get implemented, would of course be that users could be tracked even when they have not explicitly enabled the cellular features of their laptop which are likely to become a ubiquitous feature of all of our devices soon, meaning we will likely see the below scene in an action movie soon.

The full patent can be seen here.

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