Security as a unique selling point
While Apple and Samsung are competing fiercely at the higher end of the smartphone market, a new niche market is emerging in the industry. Instead of ever improving the specifications of their flagship smartphones, these new devices do not even come close to their hardware level. Yet, they are offered in the same price range. If it are not the specs, then what else is it that adds so much value to these phones?
Truth is, it is the security they offer. A few days ago, Archos – a French manufacturer that has not produced anything of note in recent times – introduced the GranitePhone. This smartphone was developed in a partnership with SIKUR, a Brazilian vendor of encrypted company-focused communications apps (Androidpolice, 2015). The phone is the latest to enter the emerging global market of ultra-secure smartphones, in which manufacturers are anticipating growing concerns regarding the protection of data. That the software is coming from a Brazilian company might not come as a surprise. In 2013, the president of the country, Dilma Rousseff, cancelled a state visit to the United States, after Edward Snowden released documents which indicated her email and phone calls were monitored by the U.S (Bloomberg, 2015). The Granitephone is not the first of this type. Precedents include the Blackphone, produced by Silent Circle, and the Boeing Black smartphone. Interestingly, none come from established smartphone manufacturers and offer these companies an entry position in the entire smartphone market.
In this market, which surpassed 1 billion yearly smartphone sales in 2014 (Gartner, 2015), the advantages are well known. The devices have become an extension of daily life and are often trusted with our most intimate data. In addition, they generate enormous amounts of new data about the users. This is also where concerns are being raised, as the data appears to be less private and secure than is often realized by the user. (Jeon, et al., 2011) identify eight threats apparent to smartphones, of which four are caused by external attackers and the other four by the unawareness of the user:
- Malware. Malware can alter or expose private information and abuse costly services and functions.
- Wireless network attacks. An attacker can corrupt, modify, or block information on the wireless network.
- Denial of service. The risk of availability due to attacks on base stations and networks, or using radio interference.
- Break-in. An attacker gaining partial or full control of the device.
- Malfunction. The user can mistakenly disable their device.
- Phishing. Exposing private information due to phishing activities.
- Loss. The user can lose his/her smartphone.
- Platform alteration. Intentional alteration of the smartphone (e.g. jailbreaking).
The GranitePhone offers a solution focusing on the first four threats. It encrypts all outgoing messages and calls by storing them on SIKUR’s cloud based platform, which is only accessible through various layers of authentication (Tech Times, 2015). The Boeing Black smartphone even tackles one of the user-related threats, as it self-destructs in case of loss or theft. As the example of the Brazilian president above indicates, it are not only consumers which should be concerned about their mobile privacy. For corporations, politicians and defense the benefits of a secure phone might be even greater, as they possess more sensitive information.
So, are there no limitations of the Granitephone? Sure there are. As mentioned before, the hardware specifications of the phone are nothing special. The functionality is also limited. Currently, there is no internet browser available. In addition, it seems unlikely that productive applications like Gmail will be available on the device. It is even unclear if third party software can be installed at all. Then there is the price. It currently costs $849, around the price one can buy the newest iPhone for. In addition, there is debate about the actual security of the platform and the transparency around it.
Hence, it is unlikely that the phone will appeal to the mass consumer market. However, for certain corporate and political positions it might be the solution to safeguarding their most valuable information. Maybe more importantly, it adds to the existing debate on the security and privacy of mobile data, which governments and other companies seem take into account less and less.
- Bas van Baar (358545sb)
Androidpolice, 2015. Archos Enters The Niche ‘Secure Phone’ Market With The $850 GranitePhone. [Online]
Available at: http://www.androidpolice.com/2015/10/10/archos-enters-the-niche-secure-phone-market-with-the-850-granitephone/
[Accessed 10 October 2015].
Bloomberg, 2015. Brazilians Are Developing an Untappable Phone. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-24/brazil-s-untappable-phone-seen-buoyed-after-rousseff-spy-scandal
Gartner, 2015. Gartner Says Smartphone Sales Surpassed One Billion Units in 2014. [Online]
Available at: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2996817
Jeon, W., Kim, J., Lee, Y. & Won, D., 2011. A Practical Analysis of Smartphone Security. Human Interface and the Management of Information, pp. 311-320.
Tech Times, 2015. Techtimes. [Online]
Available at: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/94336/20151012/archos-announces-security-enterprise-focused-granitephone.htm
[Accessed 12 October 2015].