The 4 Best Phones for Privacy and Security - Publik Talk


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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The 4 Best Phones for Privacy and Security

Cell phones — particularly smartphones — are inherently bad for privacy. You’ve basically got a tracking device in your pocket, pinging off cell towers and locking onto GPS satellites. All the while, the handset’s data connection ensures that tracking cookies, advertising IDs, and usage stats follow you around the internet.

So no, there’s no such thing as a perfectly secure and truly private smartphone, let’s get that out of the way now. But in the information age, you practically need a smartphone just to get by in society, so the question then becomes: Which phone manages to be the lesser of all the evils?

With critical vulnerabilities such as the Dirty COW exploit on Android and the Pegasus NSO hack on iOS, not to mention the FBI attempting to find a backdoor into practically every phone, that’s a hard question to answer. So to find the most security-hardened devices, we tested the top smartphones on the market, looking for key factors like encryption strength, biometrics, VPN availability, and security patch time frames. Our research narrowed the list down to four great phones, so let’s discuss how well each of these devices protects your privacy.

Key Comparison Points

When it came to comparing our four finalist phones, these were the key differentiating factors for privacy and security:

  • Biometrics: There are two schools of thought involving fingerprint scanners and other biometric unlocking methods. First, there’s the idea that if your biometric identifiers were ever stolen, you wouldn’t be able to change them like a password, making them permanently compromised. The second line of thinking is that if a security method is easier for the user, they’ll be more likely to actually use it, in which case biometrics are better for security in general. So in the end, it’s your call as to whether a fingerprint sensor is a good or bad thing, but note that having such hardware enables other security-related features such as LastPass’ fingerprint login.
  • Encryption: Each of these phones uses one of two types of encryption: file-based (FBE) or full disk (FDE). File-based encryption is the more effective method of the two, as it allows individual files to be locked with different keys, whereas full disk encryption uses only one key to lock the entire data partition. All four of these phones use the AES encryption standard, and while some use 128-bit keys to decrypt the data, others use more advanced 256-bit keys.
  • Encryption Engine: This is more about performance than security, but some phones use hardware to handle the actual process of encrypting, while other phones do it with software. The iPhone 7, for instance, uses a dedicated hardware chip to handle encryption, which results in better read and write speeds than the Android phones in this list, which all use software-based encryption engines.
  • Sandboxed User Accounts: If privacy is one of your top considerations, you may want to maintain separate user spaces on your phone — perhaps one for work, and another for your personal usage. If so, it’s important that the data from each user account be truly separated (or “sandboxed“), and the Android phones in this list offer that feature.
  • Restrict Ad Tracking: Phones that ship with Apple and Google services preinstalled use a system-wide advertising tracking ID to help marketing partners deliver targeted ads. This ID follows you around as you use apps and services on your phone, which is sketchy behavior when it comes to privacy. Apple allows you to restrict apps’ abilities to view and use this identifier, while Google merely lets you to reset the ID and opt out of seeing personalized ads on Android devices.
  • Always-On VPN: A virtual private network, or VPN, allows you to reroute internet traffic through an external server. A good VPN service will even let you encrypt all data traffic for increased anonymity. With Android devices, you can funnel all types of internet traffic through a VPN. With an iPhone, however, you can only use a VPN over Wi-Fi, unless you’re willing to reset your device and enable “Supervised Mode” to get the VPN working on your mobile data connection.
  • Block Internet Access for Apps: If you don’t want apps “phoning home,” the ability to block internet access on a per-app basis is a huge plus. With Android, this can be done by setting up a local VPN like Netguard, which takes a little extra work. With iOS, you can easily disable mobile data access for an app, however, it’s not possible to restrict Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Calls & SMS Encrypted by Default: All phones in this list have access to Signal Private Messenger, which is an app that encrypts your calls and messages for added privacy. However, only the Blackphone 2 comes with this functionality by default.
  • Anti-StingRay Detection: Government agencies have been known to use a fake cell tower device called a StingRay to intercept calls and SMS messages from a suspect in one of their ongoing investigations. The Blackphone 2 has a feature that notifies you when your phone might be connected to a StingRay, while the other phones in this list do not.
  • Data Wipe After Failed Login: Some phones have a feature that triggers an automatic factory reset when someone attempts to enter your PIN or password too many times, if enabled. This is very effective when it comes to fending off intruders, as it makes brute-force password attacks all but impossible.
  • LastPass: The popular password management service LastPass has varying degrees of functionality on each of these phones. Some of the devices allow you to log into the service using your fingerprint, others will auto-populate passwords into apps and websites for you, and the Pixel will let you do both.
  • Stock Security Center App: If you’re security-minded, it’s good to have a centralized app that helps you handle all of your phone’s security needs. The Blackberry PRIV and Blackphone offer such security center apps, which give you an overview of your phone’s security health and allow you to easily tweak important security settings, among other things.
  • OS CVEs: All phones in this list run either iOS or Android. In recent years, both of these operating systems have had numerous common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) discovered, so it’s important to keep track of exactly how vulnerable they are. In the past three years, CVEDetails has reported that 661 CVEs were found on Android, while 670 were found on iOS.
  • Security Patch Timeframe: Blackphone promises that critical bugs will be patched within 72 hours. Like Google and the Pixel, Blackberry uses Android’s recommended monthly security patch time frame, however, they will patch critical bugs faster than that if need be. Apple doesn’t adhere to a specific time frame with its security patches, however, updates are generally issued within a month of critical bugs being found.
  • Bug Bounties: Device manufacturers will usually offer a cash prize for anyone who can find glaring weaknesses in their phone’s software, effectively crowd-sourcing the process of discovering and closing security loopholes. With a higher bounty, people will generally be more motivated to find these bugs. Some companies invite only trusted bug reporters to earn a bounty (depicted as “Closed” in the above chart), while others will let anybody report bugs and claim the bounty (shown as “Open” here).

Read more: How Thieves Unlock Passcodes on Stolen iPhones (And How to Protect Yourself Against It)

Author: Dallas Thomas / Gadget Hacks
Published at: Mon, 23 Oct 2017 19:23:49 +0000

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