EFF praises Android’s new 2G kill switch, wants Apple to follow suit

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Electronic Frontier Foundation celebrating Google has added 2G kill switch to Android 12. Digital rights group campaigning against dated, insecure 2G cellular standard from 2020, and Android is the first mobile OS to take group advice and let users disable 2G entirely.

In the US, carriers switched to 2G years ago, and 3G shutdowns are already underway. Phones haven’t actually received the message, though, and modems still try to automatically connect to any nearby 2G signals. The problem is that 2G is too old, and it’s like connecting to a WEP-secured Wi-Fi hotspot—the security is obsolete, so it’s easy to crack. If you’re in a country where legitimate uses of 2G have long been closed, with the standard only serving as an attack vector through fake cell phone towers, why not shut it down?


The EFF explains the issues:

There are two main problems with 2G. First, it uses weak encryption between the tower and the device that can be cracked in real time by an attacker to intercept calls or text messages. In fact, the attacker can do this passively without ever transmitting a packet. The other problem with 2G is that there is no authentication of the phone’s tower, which means anyone can impersonate a real 2G tower and a phone using the 2G protocol will never be intelligible.

This is not to say that non-2G signals are “safe”. they are less unsafe, but you still shouldn’t rely on cellular networks. Best practice is to encrypt everything. This usually defaults to web communications, but depending on your carrier and how the phone is set up, carrier services such as SMS and phone calls may be more vulnerable.

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So why is 2G still on by default, even though it is clearly obsolete? The story of 2G has varied dramatically around the world. IoT cellular company EMnify maintains an incredible Global 2G phase-out List worth seeing. Some countries like America, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have stopped 2G for some time. However, Europe isn’t killing 2G until 2025. Some South American countries are keeping the standard until 2024, and some countries in Africa have no set date for 2G shutdown.

Even if you’re in a country that still has 2G, you’ll probably want to turn it off. 2G doesn’t have data sending capability at all, so it probably only lets horrible analog voice calls and probably SMS – if your carrier has the worst, worst-maintained SMS system on earth. There is a good chance that turning 2G off won’t change your smartphone experience, so give it a try.

With Android in mind, EFF is now focusing on Apple. This a. Leading a Twitter campaign with one click tweet The button read, “Hey @Apple, 2G is an old and insecure technology! Google just gave us the option to turn it off on our phones and it’s your turn!”

How 2G Kill Switch Works on Android

This 2G kill switch is a new feature in Android 12, but what phones are actually getting it? As always with Android, the answer is complicated, and the Switch isn’t coming to all Android 12 phones. In form of Android 12 Release Note Point out, the actual requirements for features are Android 12 and “Radio 1.6 HAL”.

This radio is one of the “Hardware Abstraction Layer” Project Treble vendor interfaces we talk about a lot. Treble is a project that modifies the OS away from hardware support, allowing easy updates; This HAL is the interface that sits between the OS and the hardware driver. Genuine HALs don’t get updated much, so your best bet for getting a 2G kill switch is to buy a new Android phone that launches with Android 12, not a phone that’s being upgraded to Android 12.

2G kill switch on Android 12.
Ron Amadeo

But wait, this is Android, so carriers could also get in the way. As the release notes say, “Carriers can disable the feature at runtime.” With all the possible variables here, the only way to really know if killing 2G is supported is to open up the settings and see. I can confirm that the Switch is on on the Pixel 6, and the EFF says to check out some new Samsung phones.

If you want to eliminate 2G and want the normal settings layout, the switch is on “Settings > Network & Internet > SIM > Allow 2G”. If your OEM scrambled Android settings for “discrimination” purposes, try searching for “2G” or hunting around cellular settings.

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