Apple Watch lacks 'kill switch' to thwart thefts

A thief who steals your Apple Watch can reset it and pair it with a new iPhone, says iDownloadBlog.

The Apple Watch may be especially vulnerable to theft. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's new smartwatch apparently lacks the same security offered by the iPhone, which tries to dissuade robbers from snatching the device in the first place.

Up for sale since April, the Apple Watch is the company's first wearable device geared to compete in a growing landscape of smartwatches and fitness bands. Designed to pair with your iPhone, the new watch alerts you to incoming phone calls and text messages, makes mobile payments via Apple Pay, and can run a variety of mobile apps. But one flaw, according to the folks at iDownloadBlog, is in the area of security.

In response to a growing number of iPhone thefts, Apple added a feature to its smartphone called Activation Lock when it launched iOS 7 in 2013. Automatically enabled, Activation Lock requires your Apple ID and password to erase or reactivate your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, thus rendering the device virtually useless to a thief. iPhone thefts in several major cities have dropped since the introduction of Activation Lock -- also sometimes referred to as "kill switch" technology."

But the Apple Watch has no such Activation Lock, according to iDownloadBlog writer Jeff Benjamin. Conducting his own test, Benjamin was able to reset or wipe the Apple Watch back to its default settings, bypass the passcode and then pair it with a different iPhone. Thieves could easily do the same thing, and as a result either sell the watch or keep it themselves.

On the plus side, a thief would still need to know your passcode in order to access your personal data. And of course, it's not as easy to steal a watch securely strapped to your wrist as it it to steal an iPhone from your hand or pocket. But the lack of an Activation Lock feature does leave the watch more vulnerable if you lose it or leave it unattended.

On another plus side, you can at least disable Apple Pay should you lose your watch. This how-to article by CNET's Jason Cipriani explains how to use iCloud to cut off access to your Apple Pay account.

One solution offered by Benjamin is that Apple could make sure your watch checks itself against your paired iPhone's Apple ID or asks for your password if anyone attempts to unpair the device. That type of protection should be doable with an update to the Apple Watch's software. If so, hopefully Apple won't take as long to add this type of tighter security to its smartwatch as it did to the iPhone and iPad.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.