Of Smartphones in an Age of Privacy Breaches and Paranoia

“Several were almost tharn—that is, in that state of staring, glazed paralysis that comes over terrified or exhausted rabbits, so that they sit and watch their enemies—weasels or humans—approach to take their lives.”
– Richard Adams, Watership Down

Go to enough legal tech conference sessions and you’ll eventually catch the fear. It may start with a shocking statistic or factoid —”80% of big law firms have been targets of hackers” or “The FBI unofficially recommends paying the cryptovirus ransom”— and it will escalate quickly into a litany of sinister sounding jargon and neologisms.

Phishing scams. Botnet zombie armies. Malvertising. Heartbleed. Zero-day vulnerabilities. Cryptoviruses. Ransomware. Data breaches. The Dark Web. Man in the middle attacks.

Speakers offer ad-hoc tips to ward off doom. Use a VPN. Only use a TOR browser. Encrypt all things religiously, at rest and in transit. Never use Facebook. Never share your cell phone number.

Some audience members drift off in absentminded denial, rummaging in conference bags for a phone charger or a breath mint. At least one person always nods sagely. The rest of the room clears throats nervously, devolving into an awkward, semi-panicked stasis. Lawyers listen silently. You can see it in their eyes. Like the rabbits of Watership Down, they are tharn and in that state of staring, glazed paralysis.

We all know this is typical of lawyers terrified or exhausted by cybersecurity topics, right?

Now, if only someone just made a device that makes them stay safe. Would we not be willing to sacrifice a great deal in our smartphones if we thought it would spare us (and our clients) from the terror of being hacked and exploited?

The Case for Austerity and an Anti-Google Smartphone

We enjoy our smartphones. They are our navigators, our recipe books, our pocket flashlights, our babysitters, our workout buddies, our infidelity aids. But increasingly we fear them. Our technology makes us insecure. They won’t let us keep secretes. And some people find they have cause to wonder, “Was Ludd right?

We pine for the days when we just locked secrets in a metal filing cabinet and that was that. They didn’t go zinging off into the interwebs because a bad link was clicked, or someone plugged an infected USB into the computer. Back when phones were dumb and made of Bakelite, they didn’t alarm our houses and pin drop the nearest car share, but neither did they encrypt the firm’s files and demand a Bitcoin ransom.

For some, this pining represents an opportunity. Now people are rolling back the clock on smartphones, nixing the novelty stuff, and scaling up on privacy and security. They see a little bit of self-imposed austerity as being called for, at least if the trade off is better privacy

The UnaPhone Zenith by UnaOS

The UnaPhone Zenith Indiegogo campaign kicked off just a few days ago. As of this afternoon it had raised just shy of $15,000, with a month left to meet its goal of $200,000. Some are calling it the “straight-up paranoid” option for secure phones, and heck… why not? Can you believe the state of things? Sure you’re paranoid… but are you paranoid enough?

UnaPhone Zenith is the hardware (apparently an Elephone P9000) on which the UnaOS custom OS (based on Android) will run.

Here’s what you might care to know:

  • The UnaOS is a patched and stripped down Android OS base (“heavily modified, hardened and secured”)—devoid of Google DNA (scrubbed of Google apps, frameworks, and libraries).
  • It’s designed to stop data mining, data leakage, location tracking, and sharing of advertising information.
  • The phone cannot be identified by carrier.
  • As the developers (who include Tutanota, a company I wrote about before) explain: “No connections to Google’s office in Mountain View, no connections to US Department of Defence, no connections to US Department of Justice”

But what’s most interesting:

  • UnaPhone is so secure that you can’t even install your own apps on it.
  • Instead of anything Google, Una uses open source apps that don’t track you.
  • It comes preloaded with just over 40 core applications for typical use, although “business users can request a customized version of the OS with preinstalled apps of their choice”.
  • Basic apps include:
    • Tutanota + additional email client with PGP,
    • Callprotector encrypted comm app,
    • Encrypted SMS,
    • Stingray Detector,
    • Complete Office suite,
    • Text editor,
    • Music,
    • Video,
    • Equalizer and DSP,
    • Web browser,
    • Proprietary VPN + OpenVPN support,
    • Conversations,
    • Notepad,
    • Pdf,
    • Wifi file transfer,
    • Dictionary,
    • Sound recorder,
    • Camera,
    • Phone and Contacts,
    • Calculator,
    • Gallery,
    • Calendar,
    • Clock,
    • File Manager,
    • Flashlight,
    • FM radio,
    • Offline GPS,
    • Pedometer,
    • Notes.

If you want to play games on your new private phone, “the UnaPhone is not for you” according to the Indiegogo campaign site.

“Built to function like a beast, the UnaPhone could load your games in a flash, but we are not willing to sacrifice your security and privacy for those moments of folly.”

You gonna ask that question twice? Didn’t think so.

What do you think about this?

– Find Nate Russell on Twitter

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