Users' desire for anonymity drives global demand for Aussie-built secure smartphones

An Australian smartphone designed to preserve privacy and anonymity has attracted global attention as startup company Ncryptcellular promotes the software-and-hardware combination as an antidote to increased government surveillance.

The $1465 Ncrypt Mega, $1314 Ncrypt Super, and $1182 Ncrypt Slim are [[xref: |customised versions]] of the Android-based Oppo N3, R5, and Find 7 smartphones, respectively, which have been packed with open-source applications and custom tools that allow users to strip identifying information, encrypt their voice and data communications, and even generate fake traffic designed to throw off government metadata sniffers.

“The reality is that the government is doing a lot of snooping,” chief technical officer Alex Kesik told CSO Australia, “and a lot of people are starting to care. A year and a half ago I told myself this was going to start happening in four years, but it's happening much more quickly. We even have the ATO [[xref: |trying to get access]] to people's metadata now – and people don't like that.”

In the weeks since its launch, a marketing campaign combining Facebook promotions and Google ads has spawned a stream of enquiries from potential distributors and small mobile-phone retailers keen to buy the devices wholesale in their thousands. These companies see the Ncryptcellular devices as appealing to the growing demographic of business and personal users that want to keep their online activities private.

The Ncryptcellular devices embed security tools including integrated connectivity to the Tor anonymity network, an integrated XMPP client that can also be used over the Tor network, and purpose-built system tools including the Secure Talk phone application; Secure Text for encrypted SMS: Secure Mail; anonymous and private Secure Browsing; and Protect & Remote Wipe features.

As well as these secure apps, the devices include Anti Listening features – which detect IMSI-Catcher surveillance tools often implemented as fake Wi-Fi base stations – and Anti Tracking features that control what kinds of data each mobile app can access. They can also spoof GPS locations, allowing users to feed applications incorrect GPS information to confound attempts to track them.

“We're moving these phones to people outside of Australia in large quantities,” Kesik said, “because they are concerned about privacy. They're not criminals per se – they're just people who are worried about people monitoring them.”

The Ncryptcellular software will run on other high-end smartphones, but the Oppo units were chosen both for their sleek design and the fact that the manufacturer's warranty is preserved even when modifications are made to the root system software, as is required for the security tools to function correctly.

The phones' encryption features require another Ncryptcellular device on the other end, but Kesik believes growing adoption of the technology within communities of interest will overcome the initial limitations of this effect. It is also playing into a steadily growing market for secure and anonymous devices, which puts it into the same market as Geeksphone's Blackphone [[xref: |secure smartphone]], [[xref: |Blackphone 2]], and [[xref: |tablet]]. However, Kesik noted, Ncryptcellular's devices don't require any ongoing subscription to function properly.

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Tags AustraliaprivacydesigninventionCSO Australiasecure smartphonesNcryptcellular softwareNcrypt SuperanonymityAlex Kesik

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