With over 87 percent of the world’s population now owning a mobile phone, they have fast become a primary target for surveillance organisations such as the NSA. Unfortunately all the major mobile Operating Systems are wildly insecure, with the OS, their GPS systems, and almost every app on them bleeding personal information out to the world to an alarming degree.
Commercial attempts to address smart phone user’s justifiable security worries include the much hyped and recently launched Blackphone, but as the Blackphone is still tied closely to your identity and, even more importantly, uses closed proprietary code, we are highly sceptical of it.
The team behind the non-profit Tor organisation, however, have a fantastic reputation for building open source anonymity solutions that, despite the best efforts of the NSA to break them, still work if used properly.
It is therefore great to see them working on an Operating System that promises to bring genuine security to mobile devices. It will be based on the ultra-secure Linux OS distro TAILS (The Amnesic Incognito Live System), which force-routes all outgoing connections through the encrypted Tor network, while blocking all non-anonymous connections. It will come bundled with fee apps, all of which are FOSS, and have been picked to provide the highest degree of privacy protection,
‘[They] don’t leak data, [have] end-to-end encryption, etc.’
TAILS is a Live CD Linux distro – you boot your desktop PC into it from a CD, DVD or USB memory stick, which when you remove leaves little or no trace of the OS or activity performed using it behind. It does not use the hard-disk, and erases all RAM (temporary memory) on exit, hence the ‘amnesiac’ part of its name.
The mobile phone version will work in the same way, allowing you to boot from a USB stick (via an OTG cable) or SD card, which when you remove it will leave no digital footprint on the phone. Because phones need so be rooted in order to boot from an external memory source, the new TAILS will include a simple rooting process that can performed in a few clicks.
Unfortunately for iPhone users, the mobile version of TAILS is ‘not really viable in a sustainable way on iOS,’ thanks to ‘too much battling Apple to be worth it,’ according project head Nathan Freitas. It will be available for Android and the Ubuntu Touch,
‘We need to balance the maximum security and anonymity provided by TAILS with the usability needs of a mobile experience, as provided by Android or Ubuntu Touch.’
We are very excited by this news, and love that fact that it can be used alongside your existing mobile OS, so you can just boot into it when you need security, without sacrificing the functionality of your usual (highly insecure) phone.
In our look at the upcoming (now out) Blackphone, we worried somewhat about the proprietary baseband chip built into all android phones, which remains an issue, but the new Tor TAILS mobile OS nevertheless looks very exciting.