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What this expensive ‘secure’ phone tells us about mobile hacking

John Brandon | Sept. 7, 2016
Will a $12,000 phone protect you from mobile malware?

Alex Manea, the director of BlackBerry Security at BlackBerry

Alex Cline, director of Information Security for Branding Brand, a mobile commerce platform, agreed that the timing is right for addressing security issues, arguing that there are those who have a greater need to address potential attack vectors before their data is compromised.

"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?

While phones like Solarin show what it might take to deter hackers, the actual phone is not the perfect solution for everyone. Cline says he’s surprised there’s a fingerprint reader, since that biometric access technology has been widely shown as ineffective.

The Solarin also relies on several third parties for their security platform, including Zimperium and KoolSpan, which was also a red flag to Cline who said that could be a non-starter for some. He says the phone uses the Snapdragon 810 processor, which is known for overheating issues. That alone could nullify all security measures if the phone overheats and data is lost.

Of course, there are many other security options. Many Samsung phones use the KNOX encryption platform, but one of the leaders in this space is still BlackBerry. On their PRIV smartphone, for example, there’s an app called DTEK that provides a security score for your device to help you monitor access points. A BlackBerry Certicom cryptographic library on the device protects against brute force attacks. And, the phone costs $550 unlocked.

Future devices

Still, even with all of these options, one thing is sure: Mobile security is going to take some radical steps soon. The fact that the Solarin phone requires that other people communicate with you through a secure app is a sign that there is a user segment that needs 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.

Rosenblatt does express one concern as these types of phones become more common. He says it will always be beneficial to practice what security pros call good "security hygiene" in never opening an attachment on your phone or opening a text from an unknown party.

 

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