Android devices are nice, user friendly and bears a good user experience, but how secure is Android really? What are the limitations of your handheld security? Let me introduce to you, the Blackphone. Not many users know, but Android, like Ubuntu is actually a variation, or a Distribution of open source operating system, Linux. There are countless amounts of different Linux Distros (Distributions), each serve different purposes, whether it’s to run a server, simulate a personal computer, or make your computer super secure.
That’s where super Secure Linux distributions come in. Super secure Linux distributions aim to provide users with the highest level of security and privacy possible, essentially making whichever computers run it, “Unhackable.” The Blackphone operating system, PrivatOS (Modified Android 4.4.2) uses similar protocols and ways of operation as we see in super secure Linux Distributions.
Device Specifications and internals
We will see this device running mid to high end specs once the Blackphone is officially released. Below I will run down the hardware this uniquely designed handset encases. (Specifications courtesy of the Blackphone Device Webpage.
- Network connectivity: GSM/HSPA(+)/WCDMA/4G LTE (CAT. 4) (Micro SIM Card Slot)
- Wi-Fi: (802.11 b/g/n)
- Display: 4.7 inch HD IPS Capacitive Touchscreen Display (1280×720) Resolution
- Chipset: Nvidia Tegra 4i
- Processor: Quad-Core 2.0GHz SoC
- Memory: 16GB internal EMMC storage (Micro SD Card Slot)
- RAM: 1GB LPDDR3
- Primary Camera: 8MP, with Autofocus, LED Flash
- Secondary Camera: 5MP
- Weight: 119g
- Sensors: Gravity, Light, Proximity, Magnetic, GPS
- Battery: 2000mAh Li-Ion Battery
The system components seen in the spec sheet look similar to lower to mid end hardware, the only exception being the Chipset/Processor being close to high end. Do not be surprised by the insignificance of the Blackphone’s hardware, this device wasn’t designed or built to be a top of the line Thousand dollar OEM Flagship. The goal of this device is to provide certain users with a sense of security, especially when handling sensitive files and information.
What would the Blackphone be without the Software to capitalize on the hardware? The Blackphone runs a highly modified version of Android 4.4.2, called “PrivatOS.” PrivatOS comes out of box, pre-loaded with security essentials and tools that users will be sure to benefit from.
Encryption is a common feature that most Roms/Android distributions that have somewhat decent security will be sure to include. Along with End to end Encryption, Privacy across multiple applications like Text messaging, Phone calls over Mobile carrier, Voice and Video over IP, Emails, and Web Browsing. Web Browsing and Wireless connections keep your browsing information secure by offering a built-in VPN (Virtual Private Network), a very standard tool in the world of security. Although traditional VPN’s are seen as secure, to some experts, it may not be secure enough. Something called TOR (The Onion Router) exists. In a nutshell, TOR is an infinitely more secure VPN than traditional VPNS because of the amount of security protocols it follows. More info on TOR on a later date. We should also be expecting to see Blackphone’s own branded Anti-virus software.
The Blackphone is a creation that was started by SGP Technologies, founded by Geeksphone and Silent Circle. We can see the level of seriousness that this Cross-Joint Venture has shown with anonymizing users, giving them peace of mind. Although encryption is a feature that is not built in to Stock Android, users should still take encryption and decryption fairly seriously, especially to those who think they may have made more than a few enemies who wish to cause them virtual harm.
This variation of Android 4.4.2, dubbed PrivatOS, lives up to its name, by essentially closing all security and vulnerability holes, Backdoors, and security flaws, something that the typical Android operating system has failed to do, because the interface and functionality is built to serve average day consumers, by giving up security for user-friendliness. PrivatOS, like Android, will receive frequent updates via OTA, pushed out by the Blackphone team themselves, possibly making the system more and more secure with each coming update, essentially vacuum sealing the OS air tight with security measures.
Although PrivatOS is a derivative of Google’s Android 4.4.2, PrivatOS specializes in the utmost security of users, which means the exclusion of Google’s apps and services, which would probably make the device A LOT less secure if it were included with the operating system. PrivatOS now needs to rely and take advantage of third party app stores like Amazon’s app store, or Aptoide. With such high security measures and control over online interaction, paranoid users can finally feel a sense of relief, and take the weight of the NSA off their shoulders. (Whistle blower Edward Snowden can probably take good advantage of a device like this)
We know that app permissions are a big factor in vulnerability. Often times apps include the permissions that must be granted to the app prior to app installation, and most often, users including me ignore these useless-like messages. Famous Custom Rom, Cyanogenmod, includes a special Privacy Guard feature imbedded in their Rom. Privacy Guard allows users to individually define which apps are granted access to which permissions, providing 3 options for each different permission; Allow, Deny, and Always Ask, which is very nice in terms of revoking apps from abusing permissions. PrivatOS includes a “Security Center” built in to the system that gives users control over individual app permissions, similar to Cyanogenmod’s Privacy Guard.
Complimentary and Bundled Services
Along with the Blackphone itself and all the user accessories that it comes with, you will receive a number of different complimentary services and subscriptions that come bundled with the purchase of the Blackphone. These features and subscriptions will be displayed below.
- 1 Year subscription to Silent Circle’s Voice/Video calling/Text Messaging services, including a 1 year “Friend and Family” Silent Circle subscription, allowing others to install the services on their Smartphones
- 1 Year of 1GB per month Disconnect VPN (Virtual Private Network) services
- 1 Year of SpiderOak Cloud file storage and sharing, (5GB/month Limit)
The Blackphone is actually a year and some amount of time old, announced at last year’s MWC, and since then, the Blackphone team has announced their successor, the Blackphone 2. Announced today at MWC 2015 in Barcelona, the Blackphone 2 has taken up an aesthetically and cosmetically better design and appearance, physically and logically.
Blackphone claims this device is impossible to track, ensuring users to keep themselves “off the grid” if necessary. The security in this device is probably 10x stronger than that of the original Blackphone since its growth. Blackphone even announced a tablet that serves similar purposes. We will have to wait until device specifications and specifics are leaked or announced. Speculations haven’t been passed around yet, but we can expect more details and information on it later in the year. (We may even be seeing the launch of this device in Quarter 3 of this year.)
And that wraps up our discussion about security essentials, and the Blackphone 2. Hopefully i’ve dropped a little knowledge on you about the seriousness of security, and how you can achieve this on a smartphone. If you liked what you read, Like us on Facebook, +1 us on Google+, or tweet about it to your friends and followers. Thank you for reading, and have a great day.
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