Your phone may soon let you block access to personal data

Your phone may soon let you block access to personal data

  • Samsung Galaxy phones in South Korea are getting the new repair mode functionality via a software update.
  • The new mode will help lock out personal data on the device, giving only enough access for technicians to fix it.
  • Security experts welcomed the feature but asked Samsung to share more details about its implementation before it could be rolled out more widely.

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Samsung is rolling out a new update that should help people get over the anxiety we all feel every time we hand over our phones for repair.

The company is rolling out for the first time a new feature for the Galaxy phone in South Korea. It’s called repair mode, and it hides users’ data to prevent it from being stolen when the device is running for repair. According to a translated version of the Korean press release, the repair mode will block access to photos, messages, and account information when it is activated.

“This feature allows users to protect data, photos, attachments, contacts, and other data so that prying eyes cannot access the information while the device is out for repair,” Stephanie Kurtz, principal college of the university’s School of Information Systems and Technology from Phoenix, told Lifewire via email. “This is a great new feature for users who don’t have other options to secure the data they have stored on the device.”

Access Restriction

In an email discussion, Dimitri Schelst, founder and CEO of OneRep, an online privacy company that helps people remove their sensitive information from the internet, told Lifewire that the feature made a lot of sense as many people store personal and often very sensitive data on devices, From passwords and PINs to financial accounts and credit card details.

The press release mentions a few details about the new feature, saying that it is being rolled out via a software update, will reboot the device when activated, and can only be turned off using owner pattern or biometric recognition.

This is why Shelest, while welcoming the feature, stressed that to build trust, Samsung must be fully transparent about what this protection entails and how it is provided to ensure that consumer information is not compromised.

“Consumers, for their part, should be more curious about how the devices and apps installed on them handle their data and adopt a privacy-first approach that helps avoid breaches, identity theft, and other privacy issues that could cause financial damage and other “serious consequences,” said Schelst.

Be your own guard

While the feature seems useful, Kurtz said it doesn’t absolve people from caring about what they manage, store, and send from personal devices. It warns against long-term storage of personally identifiable information (PII) on mobile devices.

“Beyond repair incidents, data can be taken out of mobile devices through insecure apps and be a target for bad actors now that mobile payments are more and more common,” Kurtz said. “Be sure to set up security, passwords, scan for viruses, and unmount data that is no longer in use.”

Kurtz praised Samsung for facilitating end-user security, but also cautioned people that repair mode should not be used as an excuse to avoid backing up data on the device before bringing it in for repairs.

But know that the security of the end user is your responsibility.

Remember that just because the device is locked does not mean that the device may do so [not] “Needs a reset because of the failure,” Kurtz said. “Avoid potential data loss by backing up if at all possible before allowing any repair work to be done.”

Repair mode is rolling out on Galaxy S21 series within South Korea. In the release, Samsung indicated that the feature will be added to more models over time, although it did not say if and when the feature will be available in other countries.

However, experts believe that the feature should definitely be generally available. “So many things seem so essential after they’ve entered our lives that we wonder how we were working before,” Shelest said.

He believes that Repair Mode has the potential to become one of those essential features that will make us wonder how we ever lived without it. However, his biggest benefit is the fact that privacy and data protection has become the focus of many people and companies. This will lead to a flurry of new products and features centered around data integrity, he said.

“I love that Samsung thinks about end-user security. But know that end-user security is your responsibility. Make sure you consider what you store, manage and maintain on your device and how you protect personal information,” Kurtz said.

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