We've already got the technology to remotely wipe data
from our devices if they are lost or stolen. But the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) wants to go one step further with sophisticated sensor devices it hopes to use on the battlefields of the future.
With the help of tech giant IBM, the DoD wants to deploy gadgets that can be blown to bits via remote control to keep them from falling into enemy hands.
Glass As Driving Force
The department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last month awarded Big Blue a contract worth $3.45 million for Vanishing Programmable Resources, (VAPR) a cute acronym for a technology that basically vaporizes electronics.
The grant published on the government's General Services Administration Web site, and first reported by the British Broadcasting Company, aims to "develop and establish a basis set of materials, components, integration, and manufacturing capabilities to undergird this new class of electronics."
According to the DARPA synopsis, IBM will use strained glass substrates to shatter as the driving force to reduce device chips to worthless powder.
"A trigger, such as a fuse or a reactive metal layer will be used to initiate shattering, in at least one location, on the glass substrate," it said. "An external [radio frequency] signal will be required for this process to be initiated. IBM will explore various schemes to enhance glass shattering and techniques to transfer this into the attached CMOS [complementary metal oxide semiconductor] devices."
The announcement comes at the same time that the California state Senate is considering a bill that would empower civilians to do something similar, though less destructive, by mandating so-called "kill switches" that would render smartphones inoperable if stolen.
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told us that bricking a device or wiping out data might be OK for a device that holds personal information or trade secrets, but not for the military.
Digital Poison Pill
"Practically speaking, it’s an added layer of security ," said King. "Data wiping requires the device be connected to some sort of IP-enabled network which allows the wipe command to be transmitted. I’m not quite sure how the self-destruct command would be triggered in this case. Maybe by the digital version of a poison pill inserted into a hollow tooth?"
King added that the sensor devices the military is considering would likely be more effective for reconnaissance than eyes in the sky in the form of drones and satellites.
"As sophisticated as they are, satellites can’t see/do everything, particularly in contextualizing situations and locales," he said. "This sounds like it’s mainly designed for 'boots on the ground' scenarios where soldiers get up close and personal with the areas/people they’re engaging.
As for civilian uses once the technology is perfected? "If it were cheap enough, it’d be a heck of a way to deter kids from buying excess apps or exceeding their call/texting limits," King said, jokingly. "Could also apply it to friends/neighbors who fail to return the items they borrow."