Erik Prince wants to sell you a “secure” smartphone that’s too good to be true
Prince told investors that the UP Phone is built by “engineers with extensive experience in forensic interception, surveillance and spoofing capabilities.”
While taking various privacy and security enhancements from open source projects, Unplugged spokesperson Alona Stein told MIT Technology Review via email, that Unplugged’s proprietary operating system has developed its own “improvements”, including “based on knowledge not available to the public (zero-days) and others.” A zero-day vulnerability is an unknown security flaw that can be attacked via an exploit that can sell for millions of dollars.
Unplugged’s day-to-day tech operations are run by Eran Karpen, a former employee of CommuniTake, the Israeli startup that spawned the now infamous hacking firm NSO Group. There, Karpen built the IntactPhone, which the company called a “military-grade mobile device.” He is also a veteran of Israel’s Unit 8200, an agency that conducts cyber espionage and is the national equivalent of the NSA.
But anyone with that experience should be able to relate to Prince’s assertion that the UP Phone is impossible to monitor.
“When I worked in American intelligence, we [penetrated] a number of overseas telephone companies,” says Liska. “We were inside these telephone companies. We could easily track people based on where they were connecting to the towers. So when you talk about being inscrutable, you’re wrong.
“It’s a phone, and the way phones work is they triangulate at cell towers, and there’s always latitude and longitude for exactly where you’re sitting,” he adds. . “Nothing you do on the phone will change that.”
The UP Phone’s operating system, called LibertOS, is Google’s proprietary version of Android, according to an Unplugged spokesperson. It runs on an unclear mix of hardware that a company spokesperson says it designed itself. Even just maintaining a unique Android “fork” – a version of the operating system that deviates from the original, like a fork in the road – is a difficult undertaking that can cost a lot of money and resources. , warn the experts. For a small startup, this can be an insurmountable challenge.
“There’s such a volume of vulnerabilities that Android is constantly disclosing and patching that you really need to stay on top of it all,” says Richardson. Keeping all software and hardware compatible with every new version of Android is something that very few companies other than tech giants can do effectively. To deal with this, some niche phones are simply not adopting newer versions of Android, a cheaper but more dangerous route.