This $12,000 ‘secure’ smartphone is unhackable say makers

Can this $12,000 smartphone protect you from mobile malware?

Mobile security is a bigger concern considering that many of us use mobile phones to store sensitive information such as business documents, bank details, credit card information, make purchases and so on. While several security measures such as fingerprint scanners to full encryption are included by Google Android and the Apple iPhone for their devices, even mobile operators like Verizon and Sprint scan for threats on a regular basis. However, there are still chances of your mobile being hacked into. According to one HP report, 67 percent of employees in the U.S. now work remotely.

A malware client called Pegasus has recently been found in the wild. For anyone who has been the victim of a phishing scam will be quite familiar with this fairly predictable attack strategy. You are fooled by a text message that makes you reply and install an app. As per Symantec reports, the malware can then jailbreak your smartphone, ultimately installing a client that can seize data.

So, how can this be stopped? A company called Sirin Labs based in the UK and Israel has the solution in the form of a 5.5-inch smartphone known as the Solarin. The device costs £9,500 (or about $12,500), which actually discloses quite a bit about where mobile security may be heading and the future of mobile hacking.

Keeping the bad guys at bay

The switch on the back of the Solarin smartphone is the most interesting feature of the device. The Solarin enters a secure mode when enabled and encrypts all text messages. There’s a “concierge” service that keeps a watch on the apps and can notify you if there is a problem. The smartphone uses chip-to-chip 256-bit AES encryption, and the “secure” mode disables all sensors like the GPS chip, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

Another feature has to do with the people communicating with you. They need to use the Secure Comm app for Android or iOS, if you want to text or call someone from the smartphone.

The device’s exorbitant price coupled with these added steps for security disclose what it takes to block invaders both now and in the next few years. Keeping your smartphone unsafe is a bit like leaving the house with the front door open when you leave, tells Alex Manea, the director of BlackBerry Security at BlackBerry to CSO. We are using mobile devices more than ever for not just some of our sensitive information but all of it, including all of our files, contacts, and bank records.

“As phones have gotten more advanced, so have potential vulnerabilities and so the need for secure devices and services is a hot topic again,” says Manea.

Agreeing that the timing is right for addressing security issues, Director of Information Security for Branding Brand, a mobile commerce platform, Alex Cline, claims that there are those who have a greater need to handle possible attack vectors before their data is exploited.

“Smartphones have become an extension of ourselves and are integral into our everyday lives,” says Cline. “For the same reasons we have security systems installed in our homes, we look for mobile devices with the capability to withstand attacks. Those with access to sensitive and valuable information are at higher risk if that data were to be exposed, therefore they look for smartphones that meet a higher threshold for security and privacy.”

Expensive phone?

Solaris is not the flawless solution for everyone, even though the device may show how we can keep the hackers at bay. Expressing his astonishment over inclusion of fingerprint reader in the device, Cline said that biometric access technology has been widely shown as unsuccessful.

The Solarin also depends on several third parties for their security platform, including Zimperium and KoolSpan, which also was a cause of concern to Cline who said that could be a failure for some. The smartphone uses the Snapdragon 810 processor, which is known for overheating problems could alone nullify all security measures if the device overheats and data is lost, Cline says.

However, there are many other security options, for instance, Samsung smartphones use the KNOX encryption platform, but this space is still ruled by one of the leaders, which is BlackBerry. For example, on their PRIV smartphone, there’s an app called DTEK that offers a security score for your device to assist you in keeping a watch on access points. While the BlackBerry Certicom cryptographic library on the device safeguards against brute force attacks, the smartphone costs $550 unlocked.

Future devices

Mobile security is certainly going to take some essential steps soon. The fact that the Solarin smartphone needs that other people communicate with you through a safe app is a sign that there is a user segment that requires this kind of simplicity.

“For executives, the idea of a phone that’s so secure when you need it to be that all you have to do is flip a switch is enticing because they don’t have to learn much that’s new to figure it out,” says Seth Rosenblatt, an editor for the security news site The Parallax.

As these types of devices become more common, it could become a cause for concern, says Rosenblatt. He says that by never opening a text from an unknown party or opening an attachment on your smartphone, we would be following what security pros call good “security hygiene,” which will always be beneficial for us.

If expensive smartphones become the purview of only executives or the tech elite, there are good chances that few of these security practices – such as using complex passwords or a VPN – could be referred to the steps we used to take on our devices. Hope that never happens.

Kavita Iyer
Kavita Iyer
An individual, optimist, homemaker, foodie, a die hard cricket fan and most importantly one who believes in Being Human!!!


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