This is how companies that sell encrypted phones, from a modified Google Pixel to a mobile phone with removable microphone

Surely you remember some spy movie in which an agent, in the middle of a covert mission, needs to make a call to the National Security Agency or the M16. Take out your phone and, by pressing a couple of keys, the device returns a warning that says the call is secure and encrypted . When hanging, the phone self-destructs and with it all the data it contained. A perfect encryption, some will say.

We talk about science fiction movies, but of course, it is not the first time (or the last) that reality reaches and even exceeds fiction . Encrypted mobiles exist and are available to anyone willing to pay for them. In a world in which we are so connected and in which we have seen that privacy and security are not as guaranteed as we thought , it is normal that special needs arise in order to protect the most confidential data. And if there is demand, there must be supply.

And who is responsible for that offer? The companies, of course . There are companies that specialize in selling encrypted phones that, on many occasions, are devices that we all know, but modified to make them more secure. Which are? What are you offering? What is the price to pay for a phone more secure than the rest of mortals? Are they really safe in all areas? Let’s get out of doubt.

Confidentia is a cybersecurity company based in Monaco that offers “360º protection”. That means that its product portfolio consists of secure communications, a confidential cloud storage system, facial recognition, audit and queries and blockchain systems. Regarding mobiles, the company has three models to choose from , none other than Google Pixel , Pixel XL and Pixel 2 XL .

On the outside they are the same as the conventional models available to the general public, but the “magic” happens inside. Android 9 Pie has been replaced by Confidentia OS, a proprietary fork that they define as a “hardened Android operating system”. Among the highlights of this operating system we have the prevention of data leaks, monitoring of the security level of the terminal and encryption of the hard disk .

On the other hand, it has a system of encrypted calls between secure phones (stay with this data), encrypted messaging and Internet connection through persistent VPN, that is, it is always activated. As far as applications are concerned, being an Android fork is compatible with Google Play apps, but it has a curious addition and it allows spoofing permissions . That means that, if an app asks for access to the contacts and you do not want to give it, the device will falsify the granting of the permission so that the app is created that you have given it to and it works normally.

Finally, it is worth highlighting the “panic mode” , a resource that they define as “of maximum utility for situations of maximum risk”. In short, the user can configure a secondary code that, when unlocking the device, shows a completely different space than it would normally show , hiding all the applications, files and information of a possible attacker. When activated, by the way, sends an alert by mail to a third party (which the user establishes) with the location of the device, photos, audios and videos of the person engaged, “thus allowing this third party to assess the risk of the situation in time real”.

And how much is worth doing with a phone with these characteristics? A Google Pixel is worth 1,450 euros, a Pixel XL amounts to 1,500 and if you want the Google Pixel 2 XL you will have to pay 1,650 euros . But it does not end there. The operating system has a license, a license that is paid and is not exactly cheap. When buying a model you can choose between six and twelve months of license. With six months the prices are those mentioned before. With 12 months you will have to add 900 euros. Upon expiration you will have to renew it and, therefore, disburse 1,200 euros for another six months or 2,000 euros for one year. The shipping is free, at least.

All this, however, does not guarantee 100% secure communication . Do you remember what we said about the encrypted calls and that you keep the data? Well, encrypted and completely secure calls are only possible between two Confidentia devices , since they are two mobile phones that are using the same encrypted network of the company (now you understand the price, right?). If you call a normal user from a Confidentia mobile, only your voice is encrypted, but not the other user’s. If you are hiding something, it is possible that by intercepting the voice of your interlocutor they may catch you.

The same happens with SMS . Quoting verbatim, “messages to other secure phones will always be encrypted. Even without data, the system will send encrypted messages using the SMS protocol. ” What happens when the other phone is not secure? What if, from a Confidentia mobile, you send me an SMS, that I use an ordinary iPhone 8 Plus? That is not safe. This is how end-to-end encryption works , it is necessary that both partners use the same platform so that messages are encrypted and decrypted. If one fails, the system fails. In short, you are half safe.

Armadillo Phone is a Vancouver-based company founded by Kelaghn Noy. Unlike Confidentia, they do not sell software, but sell a device that, in effect, is called Armadillo Phone. Its main highlight is that some of its components are removable , which in theory should ensure greater security. In particular, the components that can be removed are the microphone, the fingerprint reader and the camera . After all, without a microphone there is no audio to capture.