Samsung amps up Android security with embedded tracking, recovery and more

Samsung_Galaxy_S4_2510177k

Samsung’s hotly-anticipated Galaxy S4 smartphone will sport a bunch of new features when it launches later this month — including a high-density 5-inch display, touch-free interaction, and split-screen apps. It will also be the first device to launch with Samsung Knox, a security platform to enable businesses, schools, government and other organizations to lock down and manage their devices, plus keep personal and corporate data securely separated on mobile devices, a bit like BlackBerry Balance. But there’s a twist: Samsung Knox will be including persistent security technology from Canada’s Absolute Software in the firmware of its flagship Galaxy products. That’s the same company that makes LoJack for Laptops.

Why do you care? Samsung Knox marks the first time a device maker has moved to substantially enhance Android’s security profile — it’s calling it SE Android, for “Security Enhanced”. (Knox is named for Fort Knox, get it?) It’s also the first time a smartphone will ship with embedded software that can remotely wipe, track, and potentially recover devices.

Samsung Knox Android

“A vendor needed to step up and complete the security of Android, and I think Samsung has done that,” said Absolute Software CEO John Livingston in a phone interview. “We’re very excited to be working closely with Samsung. They’ve really taken a leadership position to get this functionality into their devices.”

Like LoJack for Laptops, Absolute’s embedded security software can track and potentially recover a device that’s been lost or stolen virtually anywhere in the world; it can also be used to remotely lock or wipe out all data on a device. But it’s not an ordinary app that can just be deleted: If a clever thief wipes or resets a protected device, Absolute’s persistence technology essentially re-spawns, pulling a new copy out of firmware.

The partnership with Samsung is the first time Absolute’s persistence technology has been put into smartphones or tablets, but Absolute isn’t new to the game. The company has been making embedded security for the Intel PC world for many years, and counts most major PC makers as partners.

Samsung Knox will be aimed at vertical markets (like schools, corporations, governments, and health care), but the embedded software will be in all Samsung’s flagship Galaxy devices, whether they’re procured by IT departments or picked up at Walmart. That means folks bringing personal smartphones and tablets to work will have the have the same high-end security as “enterprise” devices.

Even though the software will be embedded in Galaxy devices, the system will not be tracking location or activity out of the box.

“We ship the tracking software turned off, and only the owner can turn it on,” said Livingston. “We’re very committed to data privacy — it’s critical to our business to ensure that all data is private.”

Activating the Absolute’s embedded security software will be a paid service: the “owner” would be an organization paying about $80 for three years, with lower rates for volume customers. However, the service could expand to everyday owners of Galaxy devices.

“Smartphone and tablet tracking and recovery services are something consumers are asking for and want,” said Livingston. “We will be working with Samsung to take protection services to carriers and telcos, and bring it to a broader consumer market.”

In that scenario, consumers might pay for tracking, recovery, and remote wiping services as part of their mobile service plan, activating (or de-activating) the service as they see fit.

What’s the appeal? After all, plenty of tracking and monitoring solutions are available for Android — for instance, Prey, Lookout, and Plan B are free. Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy devices should have an edge, though, with regenerating security software right in the firmware. Further, users bringing personal Galaxy devices to work will have a better chance of being able to work with their employers’ device-management systems — including a separate, encrypted container for work-related stuff separate from their own apps, email, photos, and media.

Hopefully, by embedding security capabilities deep in Galaxy devices, Samsung is also opening the door to powerful options for everyday customers to secure, track, or remote-wipe their smartphones and tablets if they’re lost or stolen. That’d be a win for everybody.

Product Review

Gate’s Smart Lock is locked and loaded but ultimately lacks important basics

In a world of video cameras and doorbells comes the Gate Smart Lock, a lock with a video camera embedded. It’s a great idea, but lacks some crucial functionality to make it a top-notch product.
Mobile

24 must-have apps for rooted Android phones and tablets

Rooting your Android device opens up a world of possibilities, along with a few apps. Here are 24 of our favorites, so you can make the most of your rooted device and unleash the true power of Android.
Mobile

5G's arrival is transforming tech. Here's everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

Rooting your Android device is risky. Do it right with our handy guide

Wondering whether to root your Android smartphone or stick with stock Android? Perhaps you’ve decided to do it and you just need to know how? Here, you'll find an explanation and a quick guide on how to root Android devices.
Mobile

Got gadgets galore? Keep them charged up with the 10 best USB-C cables

We're glad to see that USB-C is quickly becoming the norm. That's why we've rounded up some of the better USB-C cables on the market, whether you're looking to charge or sync your smartphone. We've got USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A.
Computing

Get ready to say goodbye to some IFTTT support in Gmail by March 31

If This Then That, the popular automation service, will drop some of its support for Gmail by March 31. The decision comes as a response to security concerns and is aimed to protect user data.
Wearables

The Tacs Nato-Lens is a watch for those who live life through a camera lens

Not all watches have to be round, or connect to your phone. The Tacs Nato-Lens is a stylish piece of wristwear with a design inspired by classic SLR cameras, making it a geeky timepiece for the camera and watch fan.
Mobile

This is the easiest way to save your iPhone data to your computer

Living in fear of losing your contacts, photos, messages, and notes on your iPhone? Fear no more -- in this guide, we'll break down exactly how to back up your iPhone to your computer using Apple's iTunes or to the cloud with iCloud.
Mobile

HMD Global admits Nokia 7 Plus handsets sent user data to China

Nokia could be in some hot water. According to recent reports, Nokia 7 models may be secretly sending data to China without the user knowing about it. Nokia says that the issue was a software bug and that it has been fixed.
Mobile

Here are the best iPad Pro keyboard cases to pick up with your new tablet

The iPad Pro range can double as laptops, but they do need proper keyboards to fill in effectively. Thankfully, there are loads to choose from and we rounded up the best iPad Pro keyboard cases right here.
Mobile

Wring the most out of iOS with the best commands for Siri

You may not know all the things you can say to Siri -- after all, Apple never released an official list of commands for its virtual assistant. Thankfully, we've compiled a list of the best Siri commands to help you out.
Product Review

The new iPad Mini isn’t a beauty, but it performs like a beast

Apple’s new iPad Mini has beastly performance, fluid iOS 12 software, and good battery life. It also looks like it came straight out of 2015, because the design hasn’t been changed. Here's our review of Apple’s 7.9-inch tablet.
Computing

Breeze through security with these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags

Getting through airport security is a drag, but your laptop bag shouldn’t be. Thankfully, these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags will get you and your gear to your destination with ease.
Mobile

Flex your thumbs (and your brain) with these fun texting games

Gaming consoles keep getting more advanced, but you can still have fun with the good old Latin alphabet. Here are our picks for the best texting games, so you can make the most fun out of that limited data plan or basic cell phone.