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Tech’ news in brief: OLPC add ‘kill switch’ to the XO laptop

The prospect of the fruits of the One Laptop Per Child project falling into the wrong hands must be as terrible a prospect to the guys behind the XO laptop as it is alluring to those that might do bad things with them.

There was talk of what could be achieved by organised spammers and the XO laptop, who would be tempted to outsource their awful efforts to those willing to do the work for pennies a day, using the XO laptop.

“OLPC [have developed] an anti-theft daemon that the project claims cannot be disabled, even by a user with root access. Participating countries can then provide identifying information such as a serial number to a given country’s OLPC program oversight entity, which can then disable the devices in certain scenarios. Disabled devices are not wiped of all data, but the user environment will cease to function.”

However, the ‘anti-theft’ method isn’t without limitations.

Because the anti-theft device relies on a time-expire mechanism, it’s unlikely everyone using the XO will be within the reach of the internet all of the time, which then means that “countries may opt for very long license periods in areas where Internet usage would be less common, or Internet uplink problems are frequent.”

Which in turn means that the XO’s could be authorized in bulk and then shipped on to whoever needs them for whatever reason, no matter how nefarious their intentions…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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