The EFF applauds Android’s new 2G kill switch and urges Apple to follow suit

The Electronic Frontier Foundation applauds Google for including a 2G kill switch in Android 12. Since 2020, the digital rights organisation has been lobbying against the outdated, insecure 2G cellular technology, and Android is the first mobile operating system to heed the group’s advise and allow users to totally deactivate 2G.

Carriers in the United States shut down 2G years ago, and the 3G shutdown is already starting. Phones, on the other hand, haven’t received the message, and modems continue to attempt to connect to any nearby 2G signals automatically. The issue is that 2G is quite old, and connecting to a WEP-secured Wi-Fi hotspot is similar—the security is archaic, thus it’s simple to breach. If you live in a nation where legal applications of 2G are no longer possible, the standard only serves as an attack vector through bogus mobile phone towers, then why not simply turn it off?

The following are the concerns as explained by the EFF:

There are two major issues with 2G. To begin, it employs poor encryption between the tower and the device, which an attacker may break in real time to intercept calls or text messages. In fact, the attacker may achieve this without ever sending a single packet. The second issue with 2G is that there is no verification of the tower to the phone, which means that anybody may easily mimic a genuine 2G tower and a phone utilising the 2G protocol would be unaware.

This isn’t to argue that non-2G transmissions aren’t safe. They are less vulnerable, but you should still not rely on the cellular network. Encrypting everything is the best practice. This is often the case for online communications, but depending on how your carrier and phone are configured, carrier services such as SMS and phone calls may be more susceptible.

So, why is 2G still enabled by default, despite the fact that it is clearly obsolete? The storey of 2G differs greatly over the globe. The IoT cellular provider EMnify has a fantastic worldwide 2G phase-out list that is well worth studying. Some nations, including the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, have been without 2G service for some time. However, Europe will not eliminate 2G until 2025. Other South American nations will continue to use the standard until 2024, while some African countries have no set 2G termination date at all.

Even if you live in a nation where 2G is still available, you should probably turn it off. Because 2G has no capacity to transport data, it is most likely only capable of facilitating terrible analogue phone conversations and perhaps SMS—if your carrier has the poorest, most poorly maintained SMS infrastructure on the planet. There’s a strong probability that turning off 2G will have no effect on your smartphone experience, so give it a go.

After taking care of Android, the EFF is now focusing on Apple. It is spearheading a Twitter campaign with a one-click tweet button that reads, “@Apple, 2G is an antiquated and insecure technology! Google recently enabled the choice to disable it on our phones, and now it’s your time!”

On Android, how does the 2G kill switch work?

The 2G kill switch is a new feature in Android 12, but which phones will have it? The solution is tricky, as is customary with Android, and the option will not be available on all Android 12 phones. The true prerequisites for the features, according to the Android 12 release notes, are Android 12 and the “Radio 1.6 HAL.”

This radio “hardware abstraction layer” is one of the several Project Treble vendor interfaces we’ve discussed. Treble is a project that separates the operating system from the hardware support, allowing for quicker upgrades; this HAL is the interface that lies between the operating system and the hardware driver. Because HALs are seldom updated, your best hope for obtaining a 2G kill switch is to purchase a new Android phone that ships with Android 12, rather than a phone that is being upgraded to Android 12.

But, because this is Android, the carriers may also get in the way. “Carriers may deactivate the capability at runtime,” according to the release notes. With so many variables present, the only way to tell for sure whether killing 2G is supported is to enter the settings and examine. I can confirm that the option is there on the Pixel 6, and the EFF recommends checking certain newer Samsung phones.

If you wish to disable 2G while maintaining a standard settings layout, go to “Settings > Network & Internet > SIMs > Allow 2G.” If your OEM mangled the Android settings for “differentiation,” try looking for “2G” or poking around in the cellular settings.

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