Erik Prince wants to sell you a “secure” smartphone that’s too good to be true

Prince told investors that the UP Phone was built by “engineers with profound experience in legitimate interception, surveillance and tampering.”

While making many privacy and security improvements from open source projects, Unplugged spokesperson Alona Stein told MIT Technology Review via email, Unplugged’s proprietary operating system has developed ” enhancements” of their own, including “based on knowledge not available to the public (zero-days) and others.” A zero-day vulnerability is an unspecified security weakness that can be exposed Attacks through mining 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 has grown to what it is today. notorious hacker rental company NSO Group. There, Karpen built IntactPhone, which the company calls a “military-grade mobile device”. He is also a veteran of Israel’s Unit 8200, an agency that conducts cyber espionage and the country’s equivalent of the NSA.

But anyone with that experience will be able to clearly see Prince’s claim that the UP Phone is non-surveyable.

“When I worked in US intelligence, we [penetrated] Liska said. “We were inside those phone companies. We can easily track people based on where they connect to the tower. So when you talk about impenetrability, that’s wrong. “

“This is a phone and the way phones work is they’re triangular with cell towers and always have latitude and longitude for exactly where you’re sitting,” he added. “Nothing you do with your phone will change that.”

According to an Unplugged spokesperson, UP Phone’s operating system, called LibertOS, is a proprietary version of Google’s Android. It runs on an unknown mix of hardware that a company spokesperson says they designed themselves. Even maintaining a single Android “fork” — a version of the operating system that differs from the original, like a fork in the road — can be a difficult endeavor, experts warn. consumes a lot of money and resources. For a small startup, that can be an insurmountable challenge.

“There’s such a huge amount of security holes that Android is exposing and patching so constantly that you really need to update all of them,” Richardson said. Keeping all software and hardware compatible with every new version of Android is something very few companies other than the tech giants can effectively do. To deal with that, some niche phones simply don’t adopt new versions of Android — a cheaper but more dangerous path.

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