Apr 08 AT 11:13 PM Russell Holly 15 Comments

The truth behind Android’s “Remote Wipe” ability.

My morning started as most of my mornings do, Tablet in hand I trudge around my house making sure my little ones are getting breakfast and readying for school. I flick through all of the news and commentary I may have missed in the last 8 hours, catch a few webcomics, and if I am feeling adventurous I will even check out Twitter. This was one such morning where a flick through twitter revealed more than a few people upset that someone had discovered a “kill switch” in the Thunderbolt source code. Through the Droid Rage, it was pointed out that this bit of code is not exclusive to the Thunderbolt.

You can find the snippet of code that I will be referring to HERE.

This code, more commonly referred to as the Master Clean command, it not some evil weapon that carriers, manufacturers, or even Google would wield over you for committing some heinous crime. In fact, this code exists on every Android device, including ones compiled via AOSP. It’s there for local network administrators. This is a corporate feature to enable a sys admin to wipe a phone that’s been misplaced, stolen, or even picked up by a wannabe reporter in a strange bar. It’s a simple security feature to protect a company from losing valuable or secure data.

So in a couple of months, when the next insanely hyped Android phone comes out, and a week or so later you hear that a super secret “kill switch” was installed to brick your phone if you misbehaved, please remember this article, as I am sure it will be just another retelling of this same old tale.

Huge thanks to @teamANDIRC for the tip!

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  • http://Website Lord Dani

    I believe this would be similar to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server whereby the local admin can send the “Wipe Handheld & lock device” signal in the event that a BlackBerry device get stolen/lost. Good to know that Android OS has this feature…

  • http://Website 4n1m4l

    ROFL @ .wtf

  • http://Website Andrew Jones

    I like the humour in that code “log.wtf” that’s going to have me chuckling all day now!

    • http://Website Ryan Kim

      Of course the geniuses at Google have to create an error type of wtf, What a Terrible Failure…

  • http://I'mguessingthecodeistemporary... Sean

    while (true) {
    return;
    }

    Doesn’t matter what follows that (which is the remote wipe), since it will never be executed.

    My guess is that it’s there to show people how it could be implemented, but if this is the code on most android phones… then I’m ok with it :)

  • http://Website vasra

    It’s only there for nice purposes.

    Sure, but let *me* decide if it can be activated or not.

    I own the phone.

    Not google, not the operator.

    Me.

    I should be able to decide if somebody can remote kill MY phone.

    Even suggesting something else is just plain silly excusing for Google and telcos.

  • http://Website jadejaws

    Vasra this feature is not there for your scenario.
    No employee that syncs to our exchange server owns their phone.
    The organization does.
    In the case of termination, a compromise (like the author described), or loss of permissions; network admins and Android needs these controls present to exist in the enterprise.

  • http://Website Deon

    But how does an Enterprise network activate the remote wipe? Is this done via Activesync/Exchange, meaning they have to setup the native Android mail client to check their corporate exchange email?

    Is there a non-exchange/activesync method that corporate networks can use to remote wipe phones? What about corporations that use Google Apps for their domains email?

    • Tangent

      At my work some managers have company Androids that sync to our Exchange server. In case of a lost phone, the device can be wiped from the “mobile devices” section of their Outlook Web Access page. If they never set up the phones to sync with our Exchange, there’s nothing we could do to wipe any data from them if they were lost.

      There are some security apps available for Androids that have the same functionality. I have Mobile Defender on mine. With that, I can remotely lock my phone, track it via GPS, and if need be, wipe all data from it. https://www.mobiledefense.com/

  • http://speedforce.org/ Kelson

    This is why I ended up not setting up my G2 to sync with our Exchange server at work. I got through several steps of setup, then got to the “Allow remote server to wipe your phone” requirement, and said, “Oh, HELL no!”

    It’d be different if it were a company phone, but since it’s my personal device, I didn’t want to risk it. If I really need to get at my work email when all I have is my phone, Outlook Web Access works just fine on the browser.

  • http://Website TT

    Hahahahaha … this is a “April 1st” type code. I think it is a joke (imho). Even a junior software engineer will not be excused writing this :D

  • http://www.petelanglois.net Pete Langlois

    We’ve known about and used this feature at work for Lotus Traveler. No big news, we’ve been using Traveler for months.