Google Adds Remote Locking for MIA Androids

Google on Tuesday rolled out a feature for its recently launched Android Device Manager that lets users lock down a stolen Android device from anywhere, via the Web.

“This is something that should be built into the OS and the platform because it’s an inherent security feature,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider.

It might be asked why Google took so long to roll out its remote lock capability; iOS has had it for three years, and there are several third-party remote lock and tracking apps for Android devices.

“Consumers weren’t demanding security, so why should Google put it in?” asked Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“Sure, with the NSA stuff security is important — but in three months everybody’s going to forget about it, and nobody’s going to care,” McGregor opined.

Google did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

How It Works

Android Device Manager and its newly released remote lock feature run on Android 2.2 and above.

The remote lock feature will override any existing password on an Android device, and it will turn off the screen as well, so long as the device is connected to a network.

If it is in Airplane mode or is turned off, the remote lock feature will kick in the moment the device is connected to a network.

Users have to first enable the Android Device Manager. Then they go to the Android Device Manager website and choose “Lock,” enter a new password, and confirm it.

The device will then be locked and will require the new password to unlock.

Late to the Party

“Remote Lock is a feature that has been a part of most mobile device management solutions for years,” David McNeely, senior director of product management at Centrify, told LinuxInsider. “It is designed as a safety in case you misplace your phone and want to be sure that it is locked.”

The actual remote lock operation “is part of the MDM API which Google has now implemented in their own Android Device Manager interface,” McNeely continued.

With the growing trend toward BYOD, many businesses have selected MDM solutions to institute some form of control over the proliferation of mobile devices being used by employees in the workplace.

Android’s remote lock can coexist with existing enterprise solutions.

A device can have multiple device administrators configured, so “it is perfectly reasonable for the end user to use the Google Android Device Manager to remote lock a lost device as well as an enterprise management solution such as third-party MDM to also provide the same capabilities for the enterprise,” McNeely said.

Impact on Third Parties

There are several third-party solutions from independent vendors, such as Where’s My Droid, Seek My Android, and Seek Droid. Some are free and others are for-pay.

Where’s My Droid has been around since 2009, for example. It added screen lock to its features in 2011, lead developer Brad Degelau, founder of Alienman Tech, told LinuxInsider.

Google’s remote lock feature will likely shoulder out third-party products because “third-party products are more likely to break when there’s a patch, whereas core features won’t because they have been tested against the patch already,” Enderle suggested.

However, platform vendors like Google “will just do the basics, so if you need a lot of bells and whistles, that’s where third-party players can provide value,” Enderle pointed out.

“Remote lock will only ensure the device is locked,” Centrify’s McNeely said. “Centrify provides full MDM and mobile app management as well as single sign-on services for Android and iOS.”

Safety Is Just a Concept

Security “is the biggest challenge in our industry because there aren’t industry-wide standards, consumers don’t want to pay for it, and anything you put in can be hacked,” Tirias’ McGregor told LinuxInsider.

“Even the Apple fingerprint sensor was hacked in two days,” McGregor continued.

Remote lock features should be used with other security features.

“Many users will have more than one security app,” noted Alienman’s Degelau, “in order to protect themselves better.”

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