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The Kill Switch in Our Software: Who Will Throw It?

Written by Gary North on March 8, 2012

In my youth, there was a movie called Forbidden Planet.  It was a good movie. It was about a world that had been created by a race of super geniuses millennia earlier: the Krell. They had died out. They had become too dependent on their advanced technology Their technology had survived; they had not.

For some reason, they had installed a kill switch on their equipment. All a human had to do was press a lever. Why they had done this was not clear. But they did. The scientist who ran their technology ordered one of the others to throw the switch. The person did. Then the scientist told them they had 24 hours to get off the planet before it blew up. It was the ultimate “get out of Dodge” scenario.

The plot made no sense. Why install a kill switch? Sadly, the following plot does make sense: anti-piracy technology.

Software designers are building kill switches into their programs. We install these programs onto to our computers. The people who designed them can control our computers’ use of these programs. They can kill them.

The argument is that they can kill unauthorized software. It’s anti-piracy. But the policy installs a booby trap on our computers.

The word is that Microsoft is going to install a kill switch on Windows 8.

Problem: Microsoft is not known for writing hacker-free code.

For over a decade, people have discussed the idea that Microsoft could use the kill switch technology to kill bootleg or counterfeit versions of its OS. I’m sure the company would employ the code to kill counterfeits if it is confident it could get away with it and confident it wouldn’t be bricking perfectly good systems left and right, thus finding itself in a legal entanglement and a public relations nightmare.

You all know the company has had meetings about this and no engineers have been able to guarantee that it would work as advertised.

This backlash fear will not deter a hacker who just wants to have fun. It will not discourage a foreign belligerent who wants to disrupt the US infrastructure. The game changes quick when this capability falls into the wrong hands.

One must assume that this global consideration is on the minds of the enemies of the state since President Obama has openly discussed how his “Internet Kill Switch” plan is a solid safety precaution if the Web is attacked. Shutting down the Web, in itself, seems like the ultimate attack. Just as killing a man because he has the flu is not a cure, killing the Internet is not a solution to anything.

Who will be able to throw the switch?

Kill switch legislation keeps bring introduced into the Senate. It has not been passed by the House or Senate, but Obama wants it. If Microsoft complies voluntarily, the legislation need not be signed into law. Over time, most PCs will have the kill switch built in.

Then, one fine day, we turn into the Krell.

The cyberwars are real. Software firms should not make it easier for our enemies to defeat us.

Continue Reading on www.pcmag.com

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8 thoughts on “The Kill Switch in Our Software: Who Will Throw It?

  1. Obama wants the "KILL SWITCH". Of course he does. He wants anything and everything to kill our freedoms. I have a great idea for a kill switch.

  2. max penn says:

    He hates all the pictures of him with BIG ears and whats to stop them from being sent to everyone. lol

  3. And now that these videos of him in his younger days are released, who knows what he will do. From what I have heard, he has an anger issue and could take it out on the US people even before elections.

  4. We are well on our way to Krell-dom. Can we stop ourselves from frantically advancing our technology outstripping our ability to control the negative effects it has on our culture? No so far.

  5. Why is freedom of speech censored on this forum?

  6. Iftruthbeknown says:

    Its as if the big companies aren't even run by people anymore. They will install anything, no matter how harmful it can prove to be in the end….even to their own families. No one up there in the rarified air of big business even seems to have a brain, or more importantly, a concience. They don't care who or what they harm, along as they can make a buck by doing it. When they die and have to Cross Over, they will discover what true helplessness and powerlessness feels like. It will scare the bejeebers out of them when they realize how alone they then are.

  7. […] via The Kill Switch in Our Software: Who Will Throw It?. […]

  8. Jules641 says:

    With all due respect, I am not doubting what you say, but can this be proven?? I am getting so frustrated with it all that when my computer finally died and I had to get this new one, I really did not want it. If we are all being spied on anyway , what is the point when there is no freedom of expression and everything we say it feels like we will be watched or put on some list or otherwise punished. For something we have as Citizens as a Right?? So….back to your question. "Why is freedom of speech censored on this forum?" I would really like to know how that is done and who ordered it to be done, if in fact it is being done.