Industry Articles

Smartphone Encryption: What Is It, and Why Is It Important?

Smartphone encryption is essentially about protecting your personal information and communications from prying eyes.

Encryption means that whenever you transmit information or store it on your phone, it is scrambled with a mathematical key, and can only be unscrambled by someone at the other end who holds a corresponding key.

Mobile encryption is causing controversy, but not because it stops hackers from stealing your personal details and cleaning out your bank accounts.

Earlier this year, the US government demanded that Apple, Google and other phone operating system providers provide a ‘back door’ – a way for government agencies to crack into people’s phones.

Since then, in another example of just how much our digital privacy is under threat, a Chinese hacking team managed to gain full remote access to Google’s new Pixel device in under a minute.

How hackers can access phone data

If your phone isn’t protected, a hacker can trick it into connecting to a fake cell tower, which broadcasts a signal that appears to be from a genuine network.

Once connected, hackers have access to any passwords you have on the phone. This might be your online banking password, or even your Facebook account and location data, which means they can see when you’re home and when you’re not, making it easy to plan a robbery.

What if you have intimate photos on your phone? If hacked, they could be put on the internet. Perhaps you sent a text to a friend that was for their eyes only – suddenly it appears on social media for all to read.

The motivations for hacking into people’s phones are varied and not always clear. Some hackers just do it for the fun of it, not caring how it affects their victims’ lives – others do it for profit.

PGP encryption and Tor

NCrypt’s smartphones secure your calls, texts, emails and browsing using PGP encryption and routing via Tor to ensure mobile privacy.

PGP uses key pair encryption, making it enormously difficult to unscramble messages. Using a mathematical formula, or key, the message text is scrambled, then unscrambled at the recipient’s end using the key created specifically for that exchange. If the data is taken off the phone, it is impossible to decipher since the key is only known to the user.

Phone calls are conducted using VOIP and are encrypted end-to-end. Tor protects its users by bouncing signal through a number of virtual communication channels housed on volunteer computers.

Unlike a direct phone call, this makes it impossible to eavesdrop on the conversation.

Why encryption is important

NCrypt is leading the way in Australia when it comes to encrypting smartphones for journalists, lawyers, business people and anyone who wishes to protect themselves and those they are in contact with.

Imagine if journalists were forced to reveal the sources of their stories simply because they were critical of a government organisation or a business. Or if a lawyer’s private emails regarding a sensitive case were hacked and made public.

These professions need privacy to function, and smartphone encryption can provide that.

Since the election of Donald Trump as the next US president and the widely publicised leaks of candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails, further questions have been raised about what journalists and politicians can do to protect their privacy.

Some solutions suggested as best practice, using software that encrypts online communications end-to-end and using PGP for emails, are already built in to NCrypt’s phones.

An alternative and secure operating system

In order to have more prospective victims, hackers will focus on targeting phones that run the most common operating systems. This means that the latest Apple iOS and the Android OS developed by Google are analysed and targeted by hackers.

NCrypt uses a modified operating system that is inherently more secure than other systems. The apps that are bundled on other Android phones are not included on the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P phones since they are designed to gather data and send it back to Google.

So if you work in a sensitive industry, or you value your personal privacy as an individual, smartphone encryption can provide an important safeguard for your data and your communications.