Samsung has created a new mode for Galaxy smartphones that should prevent phone repair technicians from accessing customers’ private data during repairs.
This is a potentially very useful privacy feature for those times when a customer gives someone else physical access to their device. It is unavoidable when repairs are needed and an act of faith that the people fixing your phone — which is also your main camera and key storage device — only do the required repairs and nothing more.
Unsurprisingly, technicians have abused this access. Apple last year settled a lawsuit over two iPhone repair technicians working at an official Apple repair partner who leaked a woman’s sensitive photos and videos on Facebook, after acquiring the files while they repaired her iPhone.
Samsung says it will bring the Repair Mode to Galaxy S21 series first in a software update and will then expand it to “some other models in the future”.
Repair Mode works by allowing users to “selectively disclose data” when a smartphone is in for repairs. Repair Mode can be enabled in the Settings app under “Battery and Device Care”. The device is then rebooted and restricted to default installed apps, while access to personal data is blocked. Once the phone is returned, the user can exit Repair Mode and then reboot the device through biometric or PIN sign-in.
That description doesn’t explain at a technical level how data is protected by this mode, but Samsung does point out that it has created the Samsung Knox Vault, an isolated area for sensitive data that’s protected by hardware-based security.
Samsung says Knox Vault offered an “information protection technology that blocks various attacks by storing encrypted personal information in its own storage space”.