It’s many years since the Blackberry was the corporate phone du jour. Touchscreen phones and the ‘Bring your Own Device’ trend put paid to all that. But the concept of dedicated mobile hardware for corporates and governments with above average security concerns hasn’t entirely passed into tech history.
Brazilian software company Sicur has been pushing the concept since 2015 when it released a smartphone running a locked down/hardened version of Android which it branded GranitePhone. That was followed up in 2018 with the eponymous SikurPhone.
Now at Mobile World Congress 2022 the firm is showing off a new security hardened and “certified” Android handset — which has been given the somewhat misleading moniker of Sikur One. (But that’s marketing for you.)
It’s branding the device a “zero trust concept” — on account of a package of “Sikur engineer certified” features which are touted to “increase defenses and encrypt confidential information at its source”, as it puts it.
Baked in security features include device encryption; a default block on installing apps from third-party stores; and a hard block on location services — the latter, of course, being notoriously tricky to switch off on vanilla Android thanks to Google’s multilayered settings and rapacious appetite for user data.
Sikur’s “Android Verified Boot” also purges built-in system apps to further shrink the attack surface area and/or keep the device “lightweight and secure”, as its PR tells it.
And despite editing out some standard software, Sikur says the handset is “fully configured and ready to use”, while further claiming it has “the same usability as a regular device”. (Maybe that depends on what exactly you want to use it for.)
Its build also comes with a locked bootloader and Over The Air (OTA) patching for apps and the OS to ensure it’s always up to date, ie rather than leaving it up to users to remember to push a manual update with the risk of security vulnerabilities in the meanwhile.
Sikur further touts a “password-less authentication token function” — which it suggests could help prevent phishing and malware attacks. Default network settings are also tweaked with security in mind. (Plus you get Sikur’s secure VPN to shield connections to unsecured wi-fi.)
Remote lock & wipe is also on board, as you’d expect.
The device comes with Sikur Messenger as the default comms app — aka, the company’s end-to-end encrypted messaging app which is intended to stand in as the corporate chat app (with support for messaging, voice, video calls etc), and also for file storage and sharing, holding data in a secure private cloud.
Albeit, this level of secure comms is only going to be available within the Sikur Messenger micro-network; so only employees provisioned with a device running the software will be able to participate. (Although the messenger app is also available for standard Android, iOS and Windows, so it doesn’t require the company’s mobile hardware to access.)
On the specs front, the Sikur One has a 6.5″ screen, an octa core processor running Android 11, and a 4,000 mAh battery.
It’s a 4G (not 5G) device, with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage (an expansion slot supports adding up to 512GB).
There’s also front and rear cameras, and support for dual SIM.
Color option: (Stealth) black, obviously.
“Ordinary devices are open and susceptible to modified configurations and can contain apps that can damage the system and introduce malware, opening doors for data leakage and espionage. With Sikur One, even a connection made over public networks, such as in airports or restaurants, is protected,” said Fabio Fischer, CEO of Sikur in a statement.
The handset is a collaboration between Sikur and Brazilian electronics maker, Multilaser.
Pre-sales for the device — which Sikur is targeting at “large businesses and government organizations”, aka entities who may be concerned both about security and broader compliance with privacy regulations like Europe’s GDPR and Brazil’s equivalent (LGPD), are starting this week per a spokesman.
“Devices are selling across Latin America, US, Europe and Middle East,” he also said, adding: “Brazil and the US are our biggest markets, to date.”
Sikur told us the company has sold around 35,000 handsets since 2015.