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LG adds 'kill-switch' security feature to G3

The phone maker has added heftier antitheft software to its flagship phone, as more lawmakers call for technology that protects smartphone owners from being robbed of their devices.

LG's Andrew Coughlin introduces the G3's "kill-switch" feature Screenshot by Richard Nieva/CNET

LG on Tuesday unveiled its latest flagship phone, the G3, and it includes antitheft software that can render the phone unusable if stolen.

The company showcased the so-called "kill switch," along with other security features, at a live event in London. The software will allow a user to remotely wipe the data from a phone, as well remotely lock it so a thief can't access personal information.

The kill switch will also let a user lock the phone permanently, making it harder for the phone to be resold. The technology is also meant to be a deterrent for smartphone thieves, removing the incentive to steal a phone in the first place.

"It goes without saying that smartphones are an integral part of our lives," said Andrew Coughlin, LG's head of mobile in the UK and Ireland, onstage during the event. "They contain all sorts of personal and confidential information."

The new feature comes as smartphone theft has become more prevalent. Coughlin said that 30,000 smartphone have been stolen in London over the past year. In the United States, one in 10 smartphone owners have had their phones stolen, according to a survey by the mobile security firm Lookout. And one in every three robberies in the United States involves the theft of a mobile device, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Consumer Reports says that about 1.6 million Americans were the victims of smartphone theft in 2012, and replacements of lost and stolen mobile devices that year cost an estimated $30 billion.

Lawmakers have also been clamoring to mandate the inclusion of kill switches on smartphones. Earlier this month, Minnesota became the first state in the US to pass a kill-switch bill. Also this month, a similar bill passed in the California state Senate, despite pushback from phone carriers.

The CTIA, a trade organization that represents the mobile telecom industry, argues that mandating kill switch technology leaves consumers vulnerable to hackers who could maliciously wipe away a phone's data. However, government officials in the US have said the wireless industry's resistance has to do with money, specifically losing business from insurance partners.

LG isn't the only phone manufacturer to introduce heftier security features. The No. 1 and No. 2 largest smartphone makers in the world, Samsung and Apple, already offer antitheft software to users of their devices. In September, Apple added "activation lock," a feature that makes it harder for someone to use a stolen iPhone. The program requires a user's Apple ID and password before they can turn off the phone's location tracking or reactivate a locked phone. Last month, Samsung, maker of the popular Galaxy smartphone line, launched "reactivation lock," which prevents a locked phone from being made operable again, even through a factory reset.

Other security features highlighted by LG on Tuesday were called "Knock Code" and "Content Lock." Knock Code, which was first introduced at the Mobile World Congress" trade show, allows a user to perform a sequence of knocks on different parts of the phone's screen to wake up and unlock it. Coughlin said there are more than 80,000 knock combinations.

Content Lock allows a user to lock certain photos and videos, and disable anyone from previewing those files. They are encrypted using an algorithm, and users can keep encoded files on an SD card.